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Trade Deficit Widens, Signals Weaker U.S. Economic Growth

Trade Deficit Widens, Signals Weaker U.S. Economic Growth

Courtesy of Rom Badilla at Bondsquawk

Stacked Red Cargo Containers

The trade deficit widened for the fourth consecutive month on a jump in imports of consumer goods from China, signaling weaker economic growth for the U.S.  The Department of Commerce revealed that the U.S. Trade Balance for June totaled a deficit of $49.9 billion from a revised prior period gap of $42.0 billion.  The widening was driven by both a 1.3 percent fall in exports and a 3.0 percent increase in imports.  The June number disappointed the market as economists forecasted a negative trade balance of $42.1 billion.

Since January of 2010, the trade gap has widened 42 percent suggesting that economic activity during that period was weaker than originally thought.  Imported goods from China and Mexico highlight much of the activity as the numbers reveal.  Year to date, the trade balance with China totaled a deficit of $119.5 billion, a year over year increase of nearly 16 percent.  Similarly, trade with Mexico reflects a negative balance of$33.1 billion for an increase of 56 percent from a year ago.

Today’s widening suggests that economic growth in 2010 may be weaker than originally estimated due to a change in assumptions of the calculation of GDP data.  BNP’s chief economists, Julia Coronado stated in an email to clients that the widening deficit “has been a significant weight on GDP in 2010.”  Furthermore she added that the “advance estimate of Q2 GDP had assumed a widening in the trade deficit in June; however the data showed an even greater deficit than assumed. Combined with other incoming source data that has been weaker than assumed, Q2 GDP looks to be tracking 1.5% q/q saar, down from the 2.4% advance estimate.”

In addition, the Mortgage Bankers Association released its weekly applications index.  For the week ending August 6, mortgage applications increased by only 0.6 percent from a prior period increase of 1.3 percent.  This anemic numbers partially coincides with stagnant mortgage rates, which influences demand for home purchases and mortgage refinancings.

According to Bankrate.com, the 30 Year Conventional National Average Rate was unchanged at 4.56 percent from the prior week.  Interestingly and given that interest rates are generally correlated, the 10-Year U.S. Treasury dropped 9 basis points to 2.82 percent during the same time-period.

With yesterday’s FOMC announcement that they will reinvest maturing mortgage and agency debt holdings back into the more-traditional holdings of Treasuries, mortgage spreads have widened which suggests that the decoupling may persist going forward between the two markets.  The 10-Year has dropped 13 basis points to 2.70 percent as of this morning from Monday’s close while mortgage backed security yields in the secondary market have fallen by only 2 basis points.  This divergence may act as a drag on future mortgage application activity, which in turn places further pressure on both housing and general economic activity.

Tomorrow, weekly jobless claims will be released which should shed more light on the key drivers to economic activity.  Economists are forecasting that people filing for unemployment benefits for the first time for the week ending August 7 will hit 465,000, which is down from the prior week’s release of 479,000.  Furthermore, people who are currently on unemployment benefits are expected to remain relatively flat from last week, which totaled 4.537 million people. 


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