International Trade Balance

Definition
International Trade measures the difference between imports and exports of both tangible goods and services. The level of the international trade balance, as well as changes in exports and imports, indicate trends in foreign trade.

Importance
International trade is the major indicator for foreign trade.

Why do Investors Care?
Changes in the level of imports and exports, along with the difference between the two (the trade balance) are a valuable gauge of economic trends here and abroad. Furthermore, the data can directly impact all the financial markets, but especially the foreign exchange value of the dollar.

Imports indicate demand for foreign goods and services here in the U.S. Exports show the demand for U.S. goods in overseas countries. The dollar can be particularly sensitive to changes in the chronic trade deficit run by the United States, since this trade imbalance creates greater demand for foreign currencies. The bond market is also sensitive to the risk of importing inflation. This report gives a breakdown of U.S. trade with major countries as well, so it can be instructive for investors who are interested in diversifying globally. For example, a trend of accelerating exports to a particular country might signal economic strength and investment opportunities in that country

Interpretation
Market reaction to this report is complex. Typically, the smaller the trade deficit, the more bullish for the dollar. Also, stronger exports are bullish for corporate earnings and the stock market.

Both the level and changes in the level of international trade indicate relevant information about the trends in foreign trade. Like most economic indicators, the trade balance is subject to substantial monthly variability, especially when oil prices change. It is more appropriate to follow either three-month or 12-month moving averages of the monthly levels.

Frequency
Monthly.

Source
Bureau of Economic Analysis and Bureau of the Census; U.S. Department of Commerce.

Availability
Around mid-month.

Coverage
Data are for two months back. (Data for June are released in August.)

Revisions
Monthly, data for the prior three months are revised to reflect more complete information. The magnitude of the revision is typically small.

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