The US merchandise-trade deficit widened slightly in February for a third month as a decline in the value of exports exceeded a drop in imports.
The trade gap in goods grew 0.6% to $91.6 billion, the widest since October, Commerce Department data showed Tuesday. The figure, which isn’t adjusted for inflation, compared with a median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists for a $90 billion deficit.
Exports fell 3.8% to $167.8 billion, while imports dropped 2.3% to $259.5 billion.
US exports of autos slid nearly 12%, the most in almost three years. Outbound shipments of consumer goods fell 4.6%. Even though a decline in the dollar late last year has given exports some room to breath at the start of the year, the currency has shown signs of stabilizing.
The decline in imports also reflected decreases in vehicles and consumer merchandise. Auto imports fell 7.1% after solid increases in the prior two months, while inbound shipments of consumer goods declined for the first time since November.
The value of imported consumer goods has largely been declining after hitting a record early last year as many retailers sought to get inventories more in line with sales. Moreover, aggressive rate increases by the Federal Reserve are seen taking a bigger toll on demand.
Meantime, the recent upheaval in the US and European banking systems risks curbing the availability of credit, potentially weighing even more on worldwide demand and trade flows.
Net exports have added to gross domestic product for the last three quarters as US companies pared orders to foreign producers. Prior to the February figures, the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow forecast pointed to another modest contribution to the economy in the first quarter.
The advance economic indicators report also showed retail inventories rose 0.8% last month to $747.3 billion. Stockpiles at wholesalers increased 0.2% to $920.3 billion.
More complete February trade figures that include the balance on the services account will be released on April 5.