U.S. Trade Gap Expanded Modestly in September On Rising Imports

By Eric Morath and Harriet Torry Features Dow Jones Newswires

The U.S. trade deficit widened in September, reflecting imports increasing to the highest level since January.

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The foreign-trade gap in goods and services expanded 1.7% from the prior month to a seasonally adjusted $43.50 billion in September, the Commerce Department said Friday. The deficit matched expectations of economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal.

Imports increased 1.2% in September, and exports increased 1.1% from August. Imports in September reached the highest level in eight months, and non-petroleum imports were the highest since March 2015.

Exports of goods and services were the highest since December 2014, but still grew at a slower rate than imports, causing the trade gap to expand.

Solid increases in both imports and exports during September could reflect the fact that some shipments were delayed at Gulf Coast ports due to Hurricane Harvey, which struck in late August.

The Commerce Department said hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria did effect recent months of trade data, but "these effects generally cannot be isolated."

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Figures on international trade can be volatile from month to month. In the first nine months of 2017, the value of U.S. imports rose 6.3% and U.S. exports increased 5.6% compared with the same period a year earlier. The overall trade deficit expanded 9.3% compared with the first three quarters of 2016.

The volume of trade has grown this year because both the U.S. and global economies are expanding at near the best paces since the global recession ended in 2009. Strong U.S. consumer spending supports purchases of imported products.

An easing of the U.S. dollar's value this year could be helping American manufacturers by making exports relatively cheaper for foreign consumers, though the dollar did strengthen modestly against global currencies during much of September.

The U.S. imports more goods than it exports, though it runs a modest trade surplus for services.

The U.S. economy has run trade deficits for decades, during both economic expansions and recessions, which economists say reflects the fact that Americans consume more than they produce relative to the rest of the world.

President Donald Trump's administration has made narrowing the trade deficit a goal and has turned a critical eye toward trade agreements. The White House is attempting to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, but has said it will walk away from the pact with Mexico and Canada if it can't broker a better deal for American businesses and workers.

The Commerce Department's latest report on foreign trade can be accessed at:

https://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/Press-Release/current_press_release/ft900.pdf

Write to Eric Morath at eric.morath@wsj.com and Harriet Torry at harriet.torry@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 03, 2017 08:45 ET (12:45 GMT)