U.S. Trade Deficit Falls in April

June 8, 2012
Lower exports, imports point to weakening global economy.

The U.S. international trade deficit in goods and services decreased to $50.1 billion in April from a revised $52.6 billion in March, as imports decreased more than exports, the Commerce Department reported Friday. Economists had expected the deficit to narrow to approximately $49.5 billion.

Exports decreased to $182.9 billion in April from a revised $184.4 billion in March. Imports decreased to $233 billion in April from a revised $237.1 billion in March.

The goods deficit with China increased from $21.7 billion in March to $24.6 billion in April, and with Canada from $3.0 billion to $3.3 billion. The goods deficit with Japan decreased from $7.1 billion in March to $6.3 billion in April.

Compared to March, April exports of goods reflected decreases in capital goods ($1.5 billion); industrial supplies and materials ($1.0 billion); and other goods ($0.6 billion).

Increases in April exports occurred in foods, feeds, and beverages ($0.7 billion); automotive vehicles, parts, and engines ($0.4 billion); and consumer goods ($0.2 billion).

Advanced technology products exports were $23.7 billion in April. Imports were $30.3 billion, resulting in a deficit of $6.7 billion.

April saw a decrease in imports of goods for capital goods ($2 billion); industrial supplies and materials ($0.6 billion); other goods ($0.5 billion); consumer goods ($0.5 billion); and automotive vehicles, parts, and engines ($0.4 billion). The Commerce Department reported foods, feeds and beverages were virtually unchanged.

On a year-to-year basis, U.S. goods exports in April grew just over $5 billion from April 2011 and imports of goods rose $11.1 billion. Most of the increase in imports came from automotive vehicles, parts and engines ($5.1 billion), capital goods ($4 billion) and industrial supplies and materials ($2.1 billion).

"A narrowing in the trade deficit would normally be viewed as a positive development if it were driven by strong gains in exports. That was clearly not the case in April," noted James Marple, a senior economist with TD Economics. "However, we must keep in mind that the decline in exports and imports followed strong gains in March and, as such, is not yet cause for alarm. Nonetheless, it sets the stage for international trade to play a smaller role in economic activity in the second quarter than it did in the first."

Economists said the recession in Europe and the slowdown in the Chinese economy were likely to weaken U.S. exports.

The new data reflected revisions by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) on both U.S. trade in goods and services beginning with 2009.

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Steve Minter | Steve Minter, Executive Editor

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An award-winning editor, Executive Editor Steve Minter covers leadership, global economic and trade issues and energy, tackling subject matter ranging from CEO profiles and leadership theories to economic trends and energy policy. As well, he supervises content development for editorial products including the magazine, IndustryWeek.com, research and information products, and conferences.

Before joining the IW staff, Steve was publisher and editorial director of Penton Media’s EHS Today, where he was instrumental in the development of the Champions of Safety and America’s Safest Companies recognition programs.

Steve received his B.A. in English from Oberlin College. He is married and has two adult children.

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