Record Highs For U.S. Trade

Includes: DIA, QQQ, SPY, UDN, UUP
by: Mark J. Perry

Total U.S. international trade (exports + imports) set a new record of $4.76 trillion in 2011 (see chart above), as both annual exports ($2.1 trillion) and imports ($2.66 trillion) reached record high levels last year, according to today's BEA report.

Other highlights include:

1. Total international trade increased in 2011 by 14% compared to 2010 ($4.175 trillion), and was 35% above the recession-related cyclical low of $3.53 trillion in 2009. Adjusted for inflation, the increases were 10.5% vs. 2010 and 28.6% vs. 2009.

2. Compared to the previous all-time record high in 2008, total trade for the U.S. last year was above that previous record by 8.7% in nominal terms and by 4% adjusted for inflation.

3. U.S. exports exceeded $2 trillion for the first time ever last year and increased by 14.5% from 2010 and by 33.5% from the recession-related cyclical low in 2009.

4. U.S. consumers and businesses purchased a new record high volume of $2.66 trillion worth of consumer products, raw materials and inputs from the rest of the world, which was an increase of 13.8% from the previous year, and 36% more than in 2009.

Bottom Line: What is already getting the most media attention about today's trade report is the "bad news" that: a) the U.S. trade deficit increased in December and for the year, b) the trade deficit with China "soared to a record high" last year, and c) the reason for the trade deficit with China is because it "deliberately undervalues its currency to give its companies Americans an unfair a generous price advantage."

What won't receive much (any?) media attention is the good news that the total U.S. trade activity (Exports + Imports) set a record high in 2011, reflecting the improvement in both the U.S. and world economies last year. Foreigner consumers and producers purchased a record volume of "Made in the USA" exports, and American consumers and producers purchased a record volume of "Made Outside the USA" imports, which is a positive sign of worldwide economic recovery and vibrancy.

As Dan Griswold pointed out last year on his blog:

"Politicians and commentators love to focus on the deficit, as though it were a scorecard of who is winning in global trade, but the real measure is the total volume of trade. As economies expand, so does trade, both imports and exports. Exports help us reach new markets and expand economies of scale, while imports bless consumers with lower prices and more choices, while stoking competition, innovation, and efficiency gains among producers."

Related: See "Made on Earth: How Global Economic Integration Renders Trade Policy Obsolete," by Dan Griswold, and also Don Boudreaux's post "Made on Earth."