by Rex Nutting, MarketWatch
Global trade rebounded further in March, driving U.S. exports and imports to their highest levels since October 2008, the Commerce Department estimated Wednesday.
The U.S. trade deficit – the difference between exports and imports of goods and services – increased by $1 billion to a seasonally adjusted $40.4 billion, the highest since December 2008 when global trade contracted violently after the September 2008 financial crisis.
In March, imports increased 3.1% to $188.3 billion, while exports climbed 3.2% to $147.9 billion. Shipments of raw materials increased the fastest, but all categories of imported and exports goods showed growth.
In the first three months of the year, imports were up 18.6% compared with the same period a year ago, while exports were up 19%. The trade deficit averaged $38.9 billion a month during the quarter, up from $36.3 billion in the fourth quarter.
Imports of petroleum increased sharply in March to $22.3 billion, the most since October 2008. The average price of crude oil rose about 2% to $74.32, while the volume of imported crude rose 11% to 9.66 million barrels a day, not seasonally adjusted.
Most of the increase in trade value came from higher volumes, not higher prices. The real trade deficit (adjusted for price changes) increased 3.6% as real imports increased 3.5% and real exports rose 3.4%.
Trade flows have not fully recovered from the brutal global recession, however. Real imports remain about 10% below the peak established two years ago. Real exports are 7% beneath the peak of August 2008.
Exports of goods and services increased 3.2%, including a 4% rise in goods alone. Exports of services climbed 0.9%.
Imports of goods and services increased 3.1%, including a 4.3% gain in goods alone. Imports of services fell 1.3%.
Exports were led by a 7% increase in shipments of industrial materials and supplies to $31.4 billion. Exports of capital goods rose 1.8% to $36.7 billion, led by generators, semiconductors and airplane parts.
Exports of foods and feeds rose 1.8% to $8.4 billion. Exports of autos and parts rose 0.4% to $9.2 billion. Exports of consumer goods rose 5.5% to $14 billion.
Imports were led by a 7.5% increase in shipments of industrial materials. Crude oil accounted for most of the gains, but metals and chemicals also increased significantly.
Imports of capital goods rose 0.8% to $34.4 billion, led by aircraft, machinery and drilling equipment. Imports of autos and parts rose 7.7% to $17.3 billion.
Imports of consumer goods rose 1.4% to $38.6 billion, led by TVs and drugs. Imports of foods and feeds rose 5.3%, led by fruits and vegetables.
Imports from Mexico rose to record $20.1 billion. Exports to the European Union increased to $21 billion, the most since late 2008. Exports to Japan and imports from Japan were at the highest levels since October 2008.
The trade deficit with China increased to $16.9 billion in March. So far this year, imports from China have risen 12.4% compared with last year while U.S. exports to China have increased 46%.