Peak-season imports of holiday merchandise showed up in an 8.8 percent increase in the U.S. trade deficit during August, the Commerce Department said.
Total imports measured by value rose 2.1 percent during the month while exports edged up 0.2 percent. So far this year, the trade deficit is running at an annual rate of $502.5 billion, up 34 percent from 2009, when the weak economy caused companies to slash inventories and reduce imports.
August apparently was the peak month for U.S. containerized imports as retailers stocked up in advance of a November-December holiday season that the National Retail Federation forecasts will produce a 2.3 percent increase in sales compared with last year. PIERS Global Intelligence Solutions, a sister company of The Journal of Commerce, forecasts containerized imports will post year-to-year volume increases of 15.2 percent in the third quarter and 9 percent in the fourth quarter.
By The Numbers: U.S. Goods' Monthly Trade.
Last year's U.S. trade deficit was just half the total of the previous year and reflected the deep recession, which reduced import demand. Economists had expected the deficit to rise this year but had forecast that a rebounding global economy would also boost demand for exports.
The trade imbalance was largely responsible for the slowing of GDP growth to 1.7 percent in the second quarter from 3.7 percent in the first three months of the year.
Although August’s 0.2 percent rise in exports was less than the increase in imports, the month’s $153.9 billion export total was the highest in two years. The Commerce Department said increases in exports of farm goods, autos, computers and oil-field drilling equipment offset declines in sales of commercial aircraft, industrial engines and ship engines.
The 2.1 percent rise in imports to $200.2 billion reflected increases in consumer goods; capital goods; automotive vehicles, parts and engines, industrial supplies and materials and foods, feeds and beverages.
The deficit with China rose 8.2 percent to an all-time high of $28 billion, surpassing the old record of $27.9 billion set in October 2008. So far this year, the U.S. deficit with China, the largest imbalance with any country, is running 20.6 percent above the pace set in 2009.
The widening trade deficit with China, coming amid high unemployment during an election season, has increased U.S. trade pressure against China. The Obama administration has been stepping up pressure on China to accelerate the appreciation of its currency. Last month the U.S. House passed legislation that would impose stiff trade sanctions on countries such as China found to be manipulating their currencies to gain trade advantages.
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