The numbers: The U.S. trade deficit shrank 19% in April to $87.1 billion as imports fell for the first time in nine months, signaling that trade won’t weigh as heavily on the economy’s growth in the spring as it did early in the year.
The deficit narrowed from a record $107.7 billion in March — the first time it’s ever topped $100 billion in a single month.
Economists polled by The Wall Street Journal had forecast a $89.4 billion shortfall.
Exports rose 3.5% to a record $252.6 billion.
Imports slid 3.4% to $339.7 billion. They hit an all-time high in March.
Big picture: The trade deficit has gyrated from month to month because of shipping disruptions and supply shortages tied to the pandemic, but the trend is up. The U.S. posted a record trade gap last year and is on track to do so again in 2022.
A higher deficit subtracts from gross domestic product, the official scorecard for the U.S. economy. The large trade gap was the chief reason GDP contracted in the first quarter for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
The much smaller gap in April, on the other hand, suggests trade will give a boost to GDP in the second quarter.
Whatever the case, the U.S. has run ever-widening deficits for years with little effect on the broader economy.
Key details: The U.S. in April exported more petroleum, natural gas and other sources of energy. Shipments of soybeans and commercial aircraft also rose.
Imports of consumer goods such as clothes, toys and drugs declined. So did imports of computers and metal parts used in a variety of finished goods.
The U.S. imported less crude oil in April, but it paid higher prices.
Imports of autos rose in April, however.
Through the first four months of 2022, the U.S. trade deficit was 41% higher compared to the same period last year.
Looking ahead: “The bigger than expected dropback in the trade deficit in April suggests that net trade will be a large boost to second-quarter GDP growth,” said Michael Pearce, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics.