Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Narrower U.S. Trade Gap May Boost Growth Pace in Second Quarter

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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 Wednesday from the Commerce Department in Washington.

Highlights of Advance Trade and Inventories (May)

  • Goods-trade gap shrank to $65.9b (est. $66b) from $67.1b the prior month
  • Wholesale inventories rose 0.3% m/m (est. 0.2% gain)
  • Retail stockpiles climbed 0.6% m/m, 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 following a tepid 1.2 percent 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 percent in May from the previous month; imports fell 0.4 percent
  • Outbound shipments were led by a 4.8 percent rise in automobiles and a 6 percent 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 percent; excluding autos, retail stockpiles were up 0.3 percent
  • Wholesale inventories of durable goods climbed 0.4 percent; stocks of nondurable goods gained 0.1 percent
  • 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
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