U.S. Trade Soaring Because Of, Not Despite, Covid Lockdowns, Supply Chain Woes

U.S. trade increased a runaway 20.97% in the first quarter to a record $1.26 trillion, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released Wednesday.

That total was buoyed rather than bogged down by continuing Covid-19 lockdowns in China, supply chain snarls and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. They have led to scarcity and higher prices for oil, gasoline and numerous other imports and exports.

U.S. exports increased 18.43%, reaching $477.49 billion and topping the pre-pandemic 2019 record while imports increased 22.58% to a record $779.52 billion.

The U.S. trade deficit — the value of exports minus imports — topped $300 billion in the first quarter for the first time ever.

The relatively stable U.S. balance of trade — the split between exports and imports — stood at 37.99% exports. Although it moves little from month to month, year to year, it was the lowest first-quarter percentage in 15 years. It had topped 40% for the first quarter from 2009 through 2020.

Imports

For the first time since the first quarter of 2014, oil is once again the nation’s most valuable import, with an 82.41% increase in value over the first-quarter of 2021, or almost four times the increase for all U.S. imports.

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The price of oil and gasoline is one of the major drivers of U.S. inflation, which is at a four-decade high.

President Biden has tapped the strategic reserve to release oil, a largely symbolic move, asked the Saudis to pump more oil, and even flirted with accepting Venezuelan oil. The United States has not imported Venezuelan oil since May of 2019, with a one-month exception in June of 2020.

Exports

On the export side, the top three exports are gasoline and other refined petroleum products; oil ;and natural gas, LN LN G and other petroleum gases.

The value of refined petroleum exports increased 77.62%, oil by 80.76% and petroleum gases by 34.19%.

For the first two, that rate is almost four times the increase for overall imports when compared to the first quarter of 2021. For the latter, it is almost double the overall rate for U.S. imports in the first quarter.

Trade partners

The top three U.S. trade partners are Canada, Mexico and China, respectively. they accounted for 43.11% of the $1.26 trillion total, which is well within the traditional range.

Canada replaced Mexico in the top position, thanks to the high price of oil. Canada is far and away the United States’ top supplier of imported oil.

All three are on track to surpass the single-year record total for U.S. trade, set by Canada in 2014 at $660.22 billion.

Airports, seaports, border crossings

The nation’s top “port” for the first quarter is Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, which finished on top for the first time on an annual basis in 2021. It is followed closely by the Port of Los Angeles and Port Laredo in Texas.

O’Hare, like the Port of Los Angeles does the plurality of its trade with China, largely imports. Port Laredo’s trade is largely with Mexico and is slightly more balanced the U.S. average.

O’Hare’s trade has been rising rapidly in recent years, first topping $50 billion in the first quarter of 2020, $60 billion in the first quarter of 2021, and topping $80 billion for the first time this year. That is double the total from just five years ago.

O’Hare’s overall trade, which is 90% imports, increased 28.05% when compared to the first quarter of 2021 — about a third faster than the national average. The only top 10 port with more rapid growth was the Port of Houston, ranked No. 6, with its trade up 65.63%.