By Olivia Rockeman (Bloomberg) —
The U.S. trade deficit widened in February to a record high as solid household and business demand kept imports running ahead of shipments to overseas customers.
The gap in trade of both goods and services increased to $71.1 billion in February from a revised $67.8 billion a month earlier, according to Commerce Department data released Wednesday. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for a $70.5 billion shortfall.
A decline in exports exceeded a drop in the value of imports during the month as severe winter weather disrupted two-way trade.
The U.S. deficit has been widening fairly consistently on a monthly basis since reaching a more than three-year low in February 2020. Merchandise imports have been pouring into the nation’s ports, leading to shipping container shortages that have driven up freight rates and left domestic producers scrambling at a time when inventories are lean.
Global supply chains were put to the test in late March after a massive container ship blocked the Suez Canal for days, forcing carriers and other vessels to weigh costly and time-consuming voyages around Africa.
Total imports decreased 0.7% to $258.3 billion, while exports fell 2.6% to $187.3 billion.
Meantime, a global shortage of semiconductors has been causing automakers like Ford Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. to scale back production, further impacting global trade.
The value of imported semiconductors was little changed at $5 billion in February, while exports of the chips dropped more than $400 million to $4.8 billion.
Imports of motor vehicles and consumer goods declined in February, while the value of industrial supplies, that include oil, increased.
The merchandise-trade deficit rose about 3% to $88 billion, while the nation’s surplus in services trade fell to $16.9 billion, the smallest since 2012.
The U.S. goods trade shortfall with China widened in February to a three-month high of $30.3 billion on a seasonally adjusted basis.
Adjusted for inflation, the merchandise-trade gap widened to a record $99.1 billion in February from $96.1 billion.(Adds bilateral trade balance)
–With assistance from Kristy Scheuble and Reade Pickert.
© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.
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