Trade deficit jumps to 6-month high as soybean shipments plunge

U.S. trade deficit climbs to $53.2 billion in August from $50 billion

The numbers: The nation’s trade deficit rose 6.4% in August to a six-month high as Americans increasingly confident in a growing U.S. economy snapped up a record number of imports.

The deficit climbed to $53.2 billion from a revised $50 billion in July, the Commerce Department said Friday. Economists polled by MarketWatch had forecast a $53.7 billion gap.

The U.S. trade deficit added up to almost $390 billion in the first eight months of 2018. That compared to about $361 billion in the same span in 2017.

What happened: Imports rose 0.6% to an all-time high of $262.7 billion.

Americans are spending more on foreign goods and travel because of a strong U.S. economy. Imports of autos and cell phones both surged in August.

Rising oil prices are also forcing households to pay more for fuel, however. Petroleum imports rose to a nearly four-year high.

Imports of aluminum and lumber both declined. The U.S. has applied tariffs to foreign aluminum and has been at odds with Canada over lumber.

Exports slipped 0.8% to $209.4 billion in August. Soybean shipments fell 28% in the wake of retaliatory foreign tariffs on U.S. crops.

Shipments of U.S.-produced oil and computer accessories also fell.

Despite strenuous efforts by the Trump administration, the U.S. has not made any headway in reducing deficits. In August, the monthly trade gaps with Mexico and China both hit an all-time high.

Big picture: The economy is growing rapidly and poised for a strong holiday season. In a separate report Friday, the government said the economy gained 134,000 new jobs in September to push the unemployment rate down to a 48-year low of from 3.7%.

The tentative U.S. trade deal with Mexico and Canada to replace NAFTA, meanwhile, has eased Wall Street worries and helped pushed the stock market to record highs. Businesses are still anxious about trade tensions with China, but it’s had little impact on the economy so far.

What they are saying?: “Strong consumer and business spending point to rising imports,” said Sam Bullard, senior economist at Wells Fargo.

Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.68% and S&P 500 SPX, -0.55% traded sharply lower Friday. The Dow set a fresh record earlier this week.

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