US Trade Gap Widened to Record $74.4 Billion in March

A ship arrives in Honolulu. (Tim Rue/Bloomberg News)

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The U.S. trade deficit widened to a record in March as the value of imports surged to a new high.

The gap in trade of goods and services expanded to $74.4 billion in March from a revised $70.5 billion in February, according to Commerce Department data released May 4. That matched a median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists.

Imports rose 6.3% to a record $274.5 billion, while exports climbed 6.6% to a more than one-year high to $200 billion.

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Demand from American consumers stuck at home during CO VID-19 has been sending U.S. imports to highs. Ports have been overwhelmed after the sudden stoppage of trade at the start of the pandemic last year and then the rush of purchasing that followed, even as exports remain sluggish.

Container Issues

Freight rates soared after the trade boom late last year caught container producers off guard, sending them scrambling to meet a surge in demand.

The blockage of the Suez Canal by a massive containership upended global trade in March caused further trade complications, stranding some 90 bulk carriers and causing a rethinking of typical routes.

Automakers have cut production after a surge in orders for items such as smartphones, TVs and computers left less capacity for a stronger-than-expected rebound in vehicle demand. President Joe Biden is proposing $50 billion for semiconductor manufacturing and research as part of a push to address the shortage.

Carmakers are pushing for a portion of the money to be reserved for vehicle-grade chips, warning of a potential 1.3 million shortfall in car and light-duty truck production in the U.S. this year if their industry isn’t given priority.

Automotive-vehicle imports advanced 7.3% to $30.2 billion. Vehicle exports increased 7.2% to $12.8 billion.

The merchandise-trade deficit rose to an all-time high of $91.6 billion, while the nation’s surplus in services trade eased to $17.1 billion, the lowest since August 2012.

The U.S. goods shortfall with China widened in March to $36.9 billion on a seasonally adjusted basis.

With assistance from Kristy Scheuble and Sophie Caronello.

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