A larger trade surplus can be a positive sign for U.S.

Other countries may not be buying as much of U.S. stuff, but our buying more of theirs is an indication of consumer strength.

Later this morning we get new trade numbers. We know it’ll be a deficit, but how much? Lately, it’s been going up -- the previous monthly numbers showed the U.S. trade deficit hit a seven-month high. Imports outran exports by more than $48 billion.

Now, monthly numbers wobble around, but the general trend the last three years is up. International investment strategist Paul Christopher at Wells Fargo says customers abroad, especially in weak Europe, are buying less of our stuff.

“It’s just a lot of agricultural products, a lot of chemical products, and a lot of very sophisticated electronics,” Christopher says. “Those are the things the world demands when the world is growing.”

Conversely, things are picking up at home. Americans lately have shelled out for foreign cars and foreign consumer goods -- cellphones, medicines, clothes.

“As long as consumers and businesses are buying more and those import numbers are looking healthy,” Christopher says, “that’s also sign the U.S. economy is also going to be growing a bit.”

Of course the trade deficit is a bit of an ink blot test -- different people see different things. But in the short term, rising imports reflect a rejuvenated American consumer.

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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