U.S. Posts Record Goods-Trade Gap Ahead of Holiday Season

The U.S. merchandise-trade deficit widened to an all-time high in November as American companies imported a record value of consumer goods.

The shortfall grew to $84.8 billion last month from $80.4 billion in October, according to Commerce Department data released Wednesday. The median estimate by economists in a Bloomberg survey was for a $81.5 billion deficit.

Imports rose 2.6% to $212 billion, the highest since May 2019 and led by a jump in shipments of consumer goods. Exports increased 0.8% to $127.2 billion.

The data show that while outgoing President Donald Trump’s push to rewrite the U.S. relationship with the world was yielding some results before the outbreak, the goal of a narrower trade imbalance will go unrealized after Covid-19 upended supply chains and demand. Both exports and imports have improved since the crisis first hit.

Imports of consumer goods climbed 6.7% to a record $61 billion. American retailers, who remain reliant on imports, had been restocking inventories depleted by the pandemic ahead of the holiday shopping season.

Inbound shipments of capital equipment and industrial supplies also increased in November. The value of imported capital goods was the highest since the end of 2018.

The report Wednesday also showed retail inventories rose 0.7% from October after a 0.9% increase. Wholesale inventories eased by 0.1%, the first decline since July.

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