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May 5, 2021

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US trade deficit at record high on roaring demand

The US trade deficit jumped to a record high in March amid roaring domestic demand, which is drawing in imports, and the gap could widen further as the nation’s economic activity rebounds faster than its global rivals.

The White House’s US$1.9 trillion pandemic relief package and the expansion of the COVID-19 vaccination program to all adult Americans have led to a boom in demand, which is pushing against supply constraints. Economic activity is also being boosted by the Federal Reserve’s ultra-easy monetary policy stance.

Manufacturers lack the capacity to satisfy the surge in demand and inventories are very lean, forcing businesses to import more goods. Demand during the pandemic also shifted to goods from services, with Americans cooped up at home.

The trade deficit increased 5.6 percent to an all-time high of US$74.4 billion in March, the Commerce Department said yesterday. The trade gap was in line with economists’ expectations.

Imports soared 6.3 percent to record high US$274.5 billion in March. Goods imports shot up 7.0 percent to US$234.4 billion, also a record high. Imports of consumer goods were the highest on record, as were those for food and capital goods. The nation imported a range of goods including apparel, furniture, toys, semiconductors, motor vehicles, petroleum products and telecommunications equipment. But imports of civilian aircraft and cellphones fell.

Exports surged 6.6 percent to US$200.0 billion. Exports of goods vaulted 8.9 percent to US$142.9 billion. They were led by industrial supplies and materials, capital and consumer goods. The pandemic remained a drag on services exports, especially travel. At US$17.1 billion in March, the services surplus was the smallest since August 2012.

When adjusted for inflation, the goods trade deficit surged US$4.2 billion to a record US$103.1 billion in March. The deterioration in the trade deficit was flagged in an advance report published last week. Despite the wider trade deficit, the economy grew at a 6.4 percent annualized rate in the first quarter.


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