Good and bad news from Commerce Dept

Data released by the Commerce Department today shows that the U.S. trade deficit in September declined in response to falling petroleum prices that lowered the deficit in oil imports. However, the data also shows the U.S. trade deficit in manufactured goods rose as U.S. exports of manufactured goods dropped sharply in September while manufactured goods imports rose marginally.

Manufactured goods exports were $87.1 billion in September 2008, down $6.5 billion from August – a seven percent drop in one month. Roughly half the decline -- $3.6 billion -- was in exports of commercial aircraft. However, even discounting the decline in commercial aircraft, other U.S. manufactured goods exports still declined three percent from August.

Manufactured goods imports rose slightly in September, up $1 billion from August, a one percent increase – considerably slower than increases in recent months, reflecting slowing demand in the U.S. economy especially for consumer goods. On a seasonally unadjusted basis, the manufactured goods deficit rose over $7 billion. “Trends cannot be determined from one month of data,” said NAM Vice President for International Economic Affairs Frank Vargo, “and it is premature to judge whether the September figures mark the end of the U.S. export boom.”

“In addition to aircraft, the export decline was most pronounced in categories related to petroleum prices – notably in organic chemicals, plastics, and oilfield equipment – rather than being spread broadly," he said. “Nevertheless,” he pointed out, “only a few major product groups showed export increases in September, which is a troubling development.”

On a year-to-date basis, U.S. manufactured goods exports were up five percent over the January-September period of 2007, though this was a sharp decline from the earlier year to date figures, reflecting the September export drop. “Trade with U.S. bilateral trade agreement partners continued to be the brightest part of the manufactured goods trade picture,” Vargo said. “The January-September U.S. manufactured goods balance with U.S. trade agreement partners was in surplus by $10 billion,” he noted. “On the other hand, manufactured goods trade with countries who do not have trade agreements with the United States was in deficit by $346 billion through September.”

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