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June 29, 2017 10:15 AM, EDT

Narrower Trade Gap May Boost Growth Pace in Second Quarter

Tim Rue/Bloomberg News

The narrower U.S. merchandise trade deficit and increases in inventories may boost analysts’ tracking estimates of economic growth this quarter, according to preliminary May figures from the Commerce Department on June 28.

Highlights of Advance Trade and Inventories

• Goods-trade gap shrank to $65.9 billion (estimated $66 billion) from $67.1 billion the prior month.

• Wholesale inventories rose 0.3% month-over-month (estimated 0.2% gain).

• Retail stockpiles climbed 0.6% month-over-month, the most in four months.

Key Takeaways

With rising inventories and overseas demand, the data could spur some analysts to boost estimates for the pace of U.S. expansion in the second quarter, adding to any rebound after a tepid 1.2% pace in the first three months of the year. Economists look to the advance report on trade and inventories — the two most volatile parts of the calculation for gross domestic product — to adjust forecasts for quarterly growth. In the first quarter, trade added 0.13 percentage point to GDP, while inventories subtracted 1.07 percentage point.

Other Details

• Exports of goods rose 0.4% in May from the previous month; imports fell 0.4%.

• Outbound shipments were led by a 4.8% rise in automobiles and a 6% increase in consumer goods.

• Imports of consumer merchandise, autos and foods declined in May; capital goods increased.

• Inventories at motor vehicles and parts dealers rose 1.1%; excluding autos, retail stockpiles were up 0.3%.

• Wholesale inventories of durable goods climbed 0.4%; stocks of nondurable goods gained 0.1%.

• Exports and imports of goods accounted for about three-fourths of America’s total trade in 2016; the U.S. typically runs a deficit in merchandise trade and a surplus in services.