The Economy

U.S. Trade Gap Hits 14-Year High of $68.1B

Retailers pushed imports of consumer goods to a record as they stocked up for the Christmas holiday season..
Matthew HellerJanuary 7, 2021

The U.S. trade deficit widened to a 14-year high in November as retailers stocked up on imported consumer goods ahead of the Christmas holiday season.

The Commerce Department reported Thursday that the foreign-trade gap in goods and services expanded 8% from the prior month to a seasonally adjusted $68.14 billion — the highest deficit since August 2006.

Imports increased 2.9% in November to $252.3 billion while exports rose 1.2% to $184.2 billion.

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Through the first 11 months of 2020, the deficit stands at $604.8 billion, 13.9% higher than the same period in 2019. “President Donald Trump has insisted that his get-tough trade policies with the rest of the world would shrink the deficit and bring back American jobs,” the Associated Press said.

Michael Pearce, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said the rising trade deficit would act as a drag on economic growth in the fourth quarter, predicting GDP would expand at an annual rate of 3%.

But Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at consulting firm Maria Fiorini Ramirez, said the deficit is “widening for the right reasons,” with demand for imports in the U.S. improving and demand for U.S. exports also picking up, just not as much.

“Growth is improving here and abroad,” he told The Wall Street Journal.

According to Politico, “Retailers stocking their shelves and warehouses ahead of the Christmas holiday appeared to be the major factors behind the sharp jump, pushing imports of consumer goods to a record high.” Imports of capital goods used by manufacturers were the highest in two years.

The politically sensitive deficit with China rose 1.9% to $30.7 billion in November and totaled $283.6 billion for the first 11 months of 2020, a drop of 11.5% from the same period in 2019 that reflected in part the higher tariffs the Trump administration has imposed on Chinese goods.

But U.S. exports to China continued to lag behind the goal set under Trump’s “phase one” deal signed in January.