US Merchandise-Trade Gap Widens to Record as Imports Surge

Trade gap
Shipping containers at the Port of Newark in Newark, N.J. (Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg)

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The U.S. merchandise-trade deficit widened to a record in November as imports surged to an all-time high.

The gap increased to $97.8 billion last month from a revised $83.2 billion in October, according to Commerce Department data released Dec. 29. The figure exceeded all estimates in a Bloomberg survey of economists. The data isn’t adjusted for inflation.

The value of imports rose 4.7% to $252.4 billion, led by industrial supplies. Imports of consumer goods climbed to a record $67 billion. Exports decreased to $154.7 billion.

The goods-trade shortfall has reached new records this year, consistent with solid consumer demand and business investment. With inventories still very lean, strained supply chains and congested ports have made it difficult for U.S. importers to satisfy the robust appetite for finished goods and supplies.

The Commerce Department’s report also showed U.S. wholesale inventories advanced 1.2%, while retail inventories rose 2%, the most since 1992.

A more complete November trade picture that includes the balance on services will come into greater focus when the final report is released on Jan. 6.

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