The biggest contributor to the drop in the deficit from January through November was the continuing boom in shale oil. In nominal terms, the U.S.’s petroleum-trade shortfall with the world fell to $13.1 billion in the first 11 months of 2019, more than $35 billion less than it was in the same period of 2018. When it comes to the rest of the U.S. economy — including the manufacturing sector — the picture looks very different. The non-petroleum deficit grew almost $20 billion to $766 billion in the first 11 months of 2019, putting it on track to beat 2018’s full-year record gap of $825 billion. The other major factor driving the narrowing deficit was a decrease in imports rather than an increase in exports. That is often a sign of weaker demand for the U.S. rather than an economy poised for a burst of growth. It also creates a statistical quirk that has long been the source of a bitter debate between advocates of tariffs like Navarro and other economists. Because of the way gross domestic product is calculated, a reduction in imports contributes to faster headline GDP growth. Yet most economists argue that’s an accounting anomaly rather than a reason to cheer, especially if it is a sign of a weakening demand rather than stronger domestic production. It’s also unclear how much of a political asset a small reduction in the trade deficit in 2019 is going to be in an election year. At more than $562 billion, the U.S. goods and services deficit in the first 11 months of the year is already more than $60 billion higher than it was in all of 2016, the year Trump was elected.