Written by Steven Hansen
A quick recap to the August 2012 trade data released today:
- Import growth has positive implications historically to the economy – and the seasonally adjusted imports were reported down month-over-month. Econintersect analysis shows expansion of 0.4% month-over-month (unadjusted) – however year-over-year growth is marginal.
- Exports were reported down, and Econintersect analysis shows exports down 3.3% month-over-month. The headwind was consumer goods (also down as an import). It takes a microscope to see year-over-year growth, and is likely an indication of a growing global economic contraction.
- The market expected a trade deficit between $43.8 and $44.6 billion and the seasonally adjusted headline data from US Census came in at a $44.2 billion deficit.
- There were no elements in this trade data which were recessionary for the USA – but was pointing towards global problems.
In perspective, the current values of exports are at record levels for Augusts – however, this month was a squeaker (and if one used chained dollars, it was not a record month). Imports are another story:
- Imports contracted 0.9% year-over-year (but grew an inflation adjusted 1.3% as import prices are deflating).
- crude oil imports falling almost $5.1 billion year-over-year, but grew $0.028 billion month-over-month (unadjusted).
The data is not inflation adjusted. Here is a view of inflation adjusted imports and exports.
Inflation Adjusted Year-over-Year Change Exports (blue line), Imports less Oil (black line), and Imports with Oil (red line)
Growing exports is a sign of an expanding global economy (or at least a sign of growing competitiveness). From the press release:
The U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, through the Department of Commerce, announced today that total August exports of $181.3 billion and imports of $225.5 billion resulted in a goods and services deficit of $44.2 billion, up from $42.5 billion in July, revised. August exports were $1.9 billion less than July exports of $183.2 billion. August imports were $0.2 billion less than July imports of $225.7 billion.
In August, the goods deficit increased $1.5 billion from July to $59.3 billion, and the services surplus decreased $0.3 billion from July to $15.1 billion. Exports of goods decreased $2.1 billion to $128.5 billion, and imports of goods decreased $0.7 billion to $187.8 billion. Exports of services increased $0.2 billion to $52.8 billion, and imports of services increased $0.5 billion to $37.7 billion.
The goods and services deficit decreased $0.6 billion from August 2011 to August 2012. Exports were up $2.9 billion, or 1.6 percent, and imports were up $2.3 billion, or 1.0 percent.
Econintersect analysis is based on the unadjusted data.
Unadjusted Total Imports (blue line), Exports (red line) and Trade Balance (green line)
Indexing the data to the end of the recession, here is a look at the relative growth of imports and exports using current dollars as the basis for the index.
Unadjusted Total Imports (blue line), Exports (red line) and Trade Balance (green line) indexed to the End of Recession
Econintersect is most concerned with imports as there is a clear recession link to import contraction. Adjusting for cost inflation allows apples-to-apples comparisons in equal value dollars between periods.
Inflation Adjusted Year-over-Year Change Imports (blue line) and Exports (red line)
As shown in the above graph:
- import growth have been trending up since mid-2011
- Exports have been in a downtrend since mid-2010.
Note: This is a rear view look at the economy.
Caveats on Using this Trade Data Index
The data is not inflation adjusted. Econintersect applies the BLS export – import price indices to the data to adjust for inflation – total exports, total imports, and imports less oil. Adjusting for cost inflation allows apples-to-apples comparisons in equal value dollars between periods.
Although Econintersect generally disagrees with the seasonal adjustment methodology of U.S. Census, in general this methodology works for this trade data series as the data is not as noisy as other series. Another positive aspect of this series is that backward revision has usually been very minor.
Econintersect determines the month-over-month change by subtracting the current month’s year-over-year change from the previous month’s year-over-year change. This is the best of the bad options available to determine month-over-month trends – as the preferred methodology would be to use multi-year data (but the New Normal effects and the Great Recession distort historical data).
Oil prices, and also quantities of imported oil, wobble excessively year-over-year and month-over-month. In 2010, the percent of oil imports varied between 10.4% and 14.6% of the total. In 2008 the variance was between 11.5% to over 20%. No amount of adjusting – short of removing oil imports from the analysis – allows a clear picture of imports.
Contracting imports historically is a recession marker, as consumers and business start to hunker down. Main Street and Wall Street are not necessarily in phase and imports can reflect the direction for Main Street when Wall Street may be saying something different. During some recessions, consumers and businesses hunkered down before the Wall Street recession hit – but in the 2007 recession the Main Street contraction began 10 months after the recession officially started. [Graph below is updated through 3Q2011.]
Above graph with current data:
Imports of Goods and Services