Looks like Goldman Sachs has the right perspective on first-quarter growth, although perhaps not the right amplitude. Earlier this week, GS warned investors that the Q1 GDP estimate would drop to 1.9% based on limited warehouse inventory expansion, but that the trade numbers for March might push it down even further. Today, the Commerce Department announced that the trade deficit jumped by 14.1%, thanks to a surge of imports that will push estimated growth further downward:
The U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, through the Department of Commerce, announced today that total March exports of $186.8 billion and imports of $238.6 billion resulted in a goods and services deficit of $51.8 billion, up from $45.4 billion in February, revised. March exports were $5.3 billion more than February exports of $181.5 billion. March imports were $11.7 billion more than February imports of $226.9 billion.
In March, the goods deficit increased $6.5 billion from February to $67.6 billion, and the services surplus increased $0.1 billion from February to $15.8 billion. Exports of goods increased $4.7 billion to $132.7 billion, and imports of goods increased $11.3 billion to $200.3 billion. Exports of services increased $0.5 billion to $54.1 billion, and imports of services increased $0.4 billion to $38.3 billion.
That isn’t entirely bad news, of course. A rise in exports is good news in and of itself. However, the rise in imports outpaced the exports, both in goods and services, and in just about every category as well:
The February to March increase in exports of goods reflected increases in industrial supplies and materials ($2.4 billion); capital goods ($1.2 billion); foods, feeds, and beverages ($0.5 billion); other goods ($0.4 billion); automotive vehicles, parts, and engines ($0.4 billion); and consumer goods ($0.1 billion).
The February to March increase in imports of goods reflected increases in capital goods ($3.5 billion); consumer goods ($3.3 billion); industrial supplies and materials ($2.5 billion); automotive vehicles, parts, and engines ($1.2 billion); other goods ($0.5 billion); and foods, feeds, and beverages ($0.2 billion).
Service exports rose faster than imports, but not by much ($500 million to $400 million, respectively). That’s not enough to dent the rapid increase in imbalance, obviously.
Reuters reports this with its favorite U-word in the headline, and notes that this will almost certainly impact the Q1 GDP revision due in two weeks:
A separate report showed the U.S. trade deficit widened more than expected in March as imports surged to a record high, in another sign the government may have to scale back its estimate of first-quarter economic growth.
The trade gap grew 14.1 percent to $51.8 billion, the biggest jump in nearly a year, even though exports also hit a record high, a Commerce Department report showed on Thursday.
Economists polled by Reuters had expected the trade gap to widen to about $50 billion.
The bigger-than-expected rise follows government data on Wednesday that showed wholesale inventories grew less than expected in March, leaving analysts to conclude the government would likely lower its first-quarter estimate of gross domestic product from the 2.2 percent rate it reported last month.
There is another bright spot in this report. It may show demand picking back up in March, although that would be in conflict with the worst-in-three-years factory orders and durable-goods reports for the same month. We’ll have to wait a couple of weeks to get those reports for April to see which direction they take.