Record trade deficit not <i>all</i> bad news

An international cargo container ship

KAI RYSSDAL: The trade gap numbers came out today, too. Another month, another record deficit in how much Americans bought from overseas. Marketplace's Scott Tong looks at Uncle Sam's shopping list from the month of August.


SCOTT TONG: The trade gap hit $69.9 billion, largely cuz Americans paid sky-high prices for oil in August.

But Daiwa Securities' Michael Moran reminds us that the sky has fallen — crude is off 25 percent since the summer.
MICHAEL MORAN: Over the next several months, we will be seeing lower prices of imported oil, which will be helping to either bring down or limit the increase in the trade deficit.

Also in August, retailers bought a whole lot of presents from overseas, or at least what they hope will be presents. Here's Anirvan Banerji of the Economic Cycle Research Institute.

ANIRVAN BANERJI: People are importing a lot of things to sell over Christmas. At a time when the Christmas shopping season is supposed to be quite good.

And the elves? They're Chinese.

America's trade gap with China hit a monthly record of $22 billion. Think of it this way: for every U.S. boat that carries stuff to China, five boats come the other way.

Many analysts think that'll bring a new round of political gnashing of teeth, more calls for protectionism. As far as the bigger trade picture, one perspective is that American consumers are strong, and thirsty for imports.

Problem is, they've emptied their wallets and have nothing left to invest at home, says Des Lachman of the American Enterprise Institute.

DES LACHMAN: The inadequacy of savings in the United States. And it is something that is not a sustainable position.

To finance the trade deficit, he says, Americans borrow $2 billion a day from overseas.

In Washington, I'm Scott Tong for Marketplace.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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