US trade deficit expands in November as imports surge

A jump in imports to nearly pre-pandemic levels caused the US trade gap to widen again in November, almost reaching a new record, according to government data released Thursday.

Exports also rose but at a slower pace, causing the trade deficit in goods and services to increase by $5 billion over October to $68.1 billion, the Commerce Department reported.

That trade gap was the highest since August 2006, when it was $68.3 billion.

Excluding services, where the United States maintains a small surplus, the deficit in goods alone expanded to an all-time high of $85.5 billion, the report said.

“The trade deficit widened to near-record levels in November as exports continue to be curtailed by weak global demand while strong consumer demand propelled total exports,” said James Watson of Oxford Economics.

Total imports jumped by $7.2 billion to $252.3 billion, the report said — nearly identical to the level in January before the coronavirus pandemic upended global trade,

The gain was mostly due to increased purchases of consumer goods, especially cellphones and home appliances.

Rubeela Farooqi of High Frequency Economics warned that the ongoing pandemic makes the trade outlook uncertain.

“Virus infections that are restricting activity in the US and abroad will likely weigh on demand and disrupt supply chains in the near term.”

With China, the target of outgoing President Donald Trump’s aggressive trade strategy, the deficit in goods alone rose to $30 billion, as imports jumped by $3 billion and exports declined, despite an uptick in soybean sales in the month.

The trade gap in November was nearly 14 percent larger than the same period of 2019, at $604.8 billion.