The Census Bureau releases a detailed set of data on international trade based on figures compiled from documents collected by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The data are aggregated into approximately 140 export and 140 import end-use categories which are then used as the basis for computing the seasonal and trading-day adjusted data. These data are also used by the Bureau of Economic Analysis for use in the NIPAs and in the international transactions accounts (balance of payments accounts).
Imports indicate demand for foreign goods and services here in the U.S. Exports show the demand for U.S. goods in countries overseas. This report gives a breakdown of U.S. trade with major countries as well, so it can be instructive for investors who are interested in diversifying globally. For example, a trend of accelerating exports to a particular country might signal economic strength and investment opportunities in that country. It is important to examine trends for exports and imports separately because they can deviate significantly since the value of the dollar versus various foreign currencies does not always move in tandem.
In September, the Census Bureau reported exports of $188.9 billion and imports of $230.7 billion with a trade deficit of $41.8 billion, up from $38.7 billion in August. The goods deficit in September increased by $3.0 billion to $61.3 billion, and the services surplus decreased $0.1 billion to $19.5 billion. Based on a three-month moving average, the overall trade deficit rose modestly in September, though the overall deficit has fallen rather dramatically from over $50 billion at the beginning of 2012. Exports continue to rise, and imports have been relatively flat on a three-month moving average basis.
At a detail level, the United States has a negative trade balance in nearly every product category save for agricultural and food products, minerals, fabrics and scrap, while maintaining significant positive balances in service categories and tourism. On a year over year basis, the country has seen significant growth in the export fuel, petroleum, diamonds, automobiles, and aircraft. On the import side, consumer goods products (mainly cell phones) but also clothing and gurniture have been growing at a substantial rate, but this is offset by substantial decreases in the import of crude oil and raw industrial products (commodity goods). This suggests that the American economy is becoming less dependent on foreign supplies of commodity products – particularly energy – which could lead to a strengthening dollar in the long term.