The Department of Commerce releases its February report on international trade Tuesday morning. It’s rarely been so politically significant. For President Donald Trump, the trade deficit – the amount that imports exceed exports – is a newfound foe, one which his cabinet members have argued poses a distinct threat to national security. Lucky for the president, the trade deficit is expected to narrow significantly in February. Keep an eye out for these five things in Tuesday’s international trade report.
1. Shrinking Imports, Shrinking Deficit
Seasonally adjusted figures from last week’s advance goods report show imports of goods in February falling 2.1 percent from the prior month to $191.6 billion. February’s goods deficit came to $64.8 billion for the month, a reduction of $4 billion from January. “These numbers bounce around a lot,” said Ward McCarthy, Chief Financial Economist at Jefferies & Company. “Especially import numbers tend to be very volatile.”
2. Stagnant Exports
While imports of goods shrunk substantially in the advance report, exports barely nudged from month to month. Goods exports fell just 0.1 percent from January to $126.8 billion. The goods data influenced a survey of Bloomberg economists to predict a sizable contraction of the overall trade deficit by a median $44.6 billion for February.
3. Fallout from the Weakening Dollar
Rising dollar exchange rates between 2014 and 2015 stifled export growth, but their effects may be starting to dwindle. “The combination of slow growth around the world and the lagged effects of the strong dollar are probably constraining exports,” said Michael Moran, Chief Economist at Daiwa Capital Markets America. “That’s why we haven’t seen much growth in exports recently.” The dollar has been hovering slightly above the Euro for most of 2016, and is currently worth $1.07 per Euro.
4. Car Troubles
Exports of automobiles decreased by a modest 1.1 percent from January, down to $13.5 billion. Imports of automobiles, however, fell by 8.3 percent, the largest month-to-month drop in imports of any category in the report. There was $29.1 billion in automobile imports in February.
5. Trumping Up the Trade Report
Under the Trump administration, the trade deficit has grown as much in controversy as it has in size. The administration has used the disparity between the trade deficits of Mexico and the United States as a foil to attack “unfair” trade deals like NAFTA – though a recent proposal to tweak the deal would make mostly modest changes, according to the Wall Street Journal. While monthly deficit figures tend to be relatively erratic, the Trump administration might take it as an encouraging sign if the trade deficit deflates as expected.