U.S. Trade Deficit Climbs To Record In January

By John S. McClenahen U.S. imports of goods and services from the rest of the world slowed in January, but U.S. exports slowed even more. The result was that the monthly U.S. international trade deficit grew to a record $43.057 billion in January, $365 million higher than December 2003's revised deficit of $42.692 billion. The value of U.S. imports totaled $132.102 billion in January; exports totaled $89.045 billion. "The message is that neither the [U.S.] dollar's decline nor stronger global growth has yet stemmed the widening in the nominal trade deficit, although the deterioration has slowed," contends UBS Investment Research, New York. The key word is "nominal." Compared with December 2003's level, the trade deficit actually narrowed in January after adjusting the numbers to reflect higher import and export prices, says UBS. As a result, "the implied drag on GDP in real terms is on track to be smaller than the one-point drag we have assumed in our 5% [growth] estimate for total real GDP [for first quarter 2004]." Economists at Merrill Lynch & Co., New York, believe trade will be a drag on first-quarter GDP growth as well. But their estimate also illustrates just how wide apart are some forecasts for first-quarter growth. Merrill says trade poses about a quarter-point downside risk to its current forecast for 3% real GDP growth, a figure that's two full percentage points below UBS' projected 5% economic growth rate for the first quarter.

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