The US Import and Export Price Indexes are monthly measurements of the average changes in prices of goods and services that are imported or exported. The data comes from surveys of both importers and exporters in the United States. The merchandise price indexes are published using three classification systems. Items are classified by end use according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis Classification System, by industry according to the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), and by product category according to the Harmonized System (HS). Import prices are based on US dollar prices paid by the US importer, and can either include or not include the costs of shipping to a US port, depending on the practices of the individual industry. For exports, the prices used are generally either “free alongside ship” (f.a.s.) factory or “free on board” (f.o.b.) transaction prices which means that they are priced prior to including the cost of shipping to the foreign country. The indices are set so that they use a base year of 2000=100 where possible.
According to the BLS, prices for US imports were unchanged in August, with higher fuel prices offset by declining nonfuel prices. Fuel prices are particularly important since they represent about one-fifth of total imports by value. Other products, particularly industrial supplier and consumer goods have had relatively stable prices over the past year.
Prices for US exports fell 0.5 percent in August driven by lower prices for agricultural goods, which represent about 10 percent of exports by value. Generally, except for certain capital equipment, most US export products saw declining prices over the course of the year.
The differences in the price indexes for exports versus imports are due to the fact that the United States is still fairly dependent on the import of commodity products (particularly oil). The demand for these products is fairly inelastic in the short term (you have to heat your house), while the products that it exports be they higher end foodstuffs, or industrial equipment, are more dependent on economic cycles. The entire world economy is growing very slowly right now, suggesting that demand for products like aircraft, industrial equipment and beef is not strong. Exporters cannot increase margins and continue to keep markets. This should turn around as the world economy strengthens; however, this same strengthening will force up prices of commodity products in dollar terms as well.
This dichotomy between import and export prices is therefore, unlikely to change as long as one fifth of US imports are petroleum and energy products. Recent developments in oil extraction technology and new finds in places like North Dakota and Pennsylvania should help to lessen this percentage over time.