Sea Containers Foretell Growing USA Trade Gap

The import / export price data released for January 2011 shows export prices increased 6.8% while import prices increased 5.3% YoY. With elements of inflation beginning to creep into data, counting things – and not using values allows perspective on what is going on economically.

So it is significant that exports of sea containers are up 13% YoY.  Imports too are up 13% YoY.

Exports are growing at record levels with exports (sea container counts) hitting a historical high for January.  January  2011 is the fourth monthly historical high in a row.

Economic health of a country can be tracked by following the transport of goods and materials.  If the goods transport is rising, the economy is improving.  Conversely when goods transport is falling, the economy is contracting.

And sea container counts are proving to be a close proxy to the real monetary values of exports and imports – and their data is released a month earlier than the hard dollar data from the US Census.  (See the December trade balance analysis and compare charts).

The Ports of LA and Long Beach account for much of the container movement into and out of the United States.  And these two ports report their data significantly earlier than other USA ports.  Most of the manufactured goods move between countries in sea containers (except larger rolling items such as automobiles).  This pulse point is an early indicator of the health of the economy.

Containers come in many sizes so a uniform method is expressing the volume of containers is  TEU – which is the volume of a standard 20 foot long sea container.  So a standard 40 foot container would be 2 TEU.

Imports into the USA grew towards record levels until August, and then receded to improved levels YoY – but not approaching record levels.  January levels are clearly not growing at rates seen earlier in 2010.

Even though exports are at record levels – the percentage rates of growth for both exports and imports are equal in January.  However, there are twice as many imports as exports.   If continued, this “near balance” on a percentage basis produces a growing trade balance deficit.

Related Articles

Moderate Increases in Export and Import Prices  GEI News

Exporting Jobs  by John Lounsbury

USA Trade Deficit Exports 1.3 million Jobs  by Steven Hansen

Did the USA Trade Balance Deficit Increase in December 2010?  by Steven Hansen