Merchandise trade deficit hits record high | Transportation topics

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The U.S. merchandise trade deficit unexpectedly widened in December to a new record as imports continued to rise, outpacing overseas shipments.

The gap widened to $101 billion last month from a revised $98 billion in November, according to Commerce Department data released Jan. 26. The figure beat all estimates from a Bloomberg survey of economists, and the data is not adjusted for inflation.

The goods trade deficit hit new records in 2021, in line with strong consumer demand and business investment. U.S. importers are struggling to keep up with demand as inventories remain tight and supply chains are strained to transport unprecedented amounts of goods. It also makes it difficult for exporters to ship goods out of the country.

The value of imports rose 2% to a new high of $258.3 billion, led by a record value of consumer goods. Imports of capital goods and motor vehicles also picked up. Exports rose to $157.3 billion.

“Trade flows will likely continue to be affected by pandemic-related disruptions in the near term,” Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, said in a note. “But imports and exports should eventually rebalance as these effects wane and global economies come back online more fully.”

The Commerce Department report also showed US wholesale inventories rose 2.1%, while retail inventories jumped a record 4.4%. These figures will be used by economists to refine their estimates of gross domestic product for the fourth quarter, which is due on January 27.

A fuller trade picture for December that includes the services account balance will be released in the ministry’s final report due February 8.

— With the help of Kristy Scheuble.