U.S. Trade Gap Widened in April


The U.S. trade deficit widened in April as the surging cost of oil boosted imports to a record, overshadowing the biggest gain in exports in four years.

The gap grew 7.8 percent to $60.9 billion, more than forecast and the highest level since March 2007, the Commerce Department said today in Washington. Excluding petroleum, the shortfall was little changed.

Rising fuel prices will keep pushing imports higher, while a weaker dollar stimulates export demand by making American-made goods more competitive. Sales abroad are one of the few bright spots in the economy as the two-year housing slump and slowdown in consumer spending cause growth to almost stall.

Treasuries were lower after the report, pushing yields higher. The benchmark 10-year note yielded 4.03 percent as of 8:38 a.m. in New York, up 3 basis points from yesterday.

The trade gap was forecast to widen to $60 billion, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey of 70 economists. The March shortfall was revised down to $56.5 billion from a previously reported $58.2 billion.

After eliminating the influence of prices, which are the numbers used to calculate gross domestic product, the trade deficit shrank to $46.9 billion, the lowest since August 2003. Combined with the smaller gap now reported for March, the figures may boost forecasts for economic growth.

Imports grew 4.5 percent in April, the biggest gain since November 2002, to a record $216.4 billion. The average price of imported petroleum, at $96.81 a barrel, and the total amount of the fuel bought, were both the highest ever.

Americans also bought more cars, food, electronics and toys from overseas.

Exports climbed 3.3 percent, the most since February 2004, to a record $155.5 billion, led by sales of commercial aircraft, autos and agricultural machinery.

Growing economies in Asia are stoking demand for goods such as aircraft. Boeing Co., the world's second-largest commercial planemaker, estimates its growth of as much as 5 percent a year will come mainly from outside the U.S., officials said on May 30. ``Currently, the demand for U.S. exports arising from strong global growth has been an important offset to the factors restraining domestic demand, including housing and tight credit,'' Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said in a speech last week.

Yesterday, Bernanke said the economic outlook has improved from a month ago and pledged that central bankers will combat any increase in inflation expectations. ``The risk that the economy has entered a substantial downturn appears to have diminished over the past month or so,'' Bernanke said at a conference in Boston.

U.S. exporters are also getting a boost from the dollar, which was down 9.6 percent against a trade-weighted basket of currencies from major trading partners in the 12 months ended in April.

A narrowing of the trade deficit contributed 0.8 percentage point to growth in the first three months of the year. The gap last quarter was the smallest since 2002.

The trade gap with China increased to $20.2 billion from $16.1 billion in the prior month as imports from that country jumped 16 percent while exports fell 11 percent.

U.S. exports to Canada, Mexico, and South and Central America were all records.

The deficit with China, which makes up the largest share of the U.S. trade gap, is a political sticking point. Some U.S. lawmakers accuse China of keeping its currency undervalued to boost exports.

 


TradingEconomics.com, Bloomberg
6/10/2008 6:38:28 AM