Federal Reserve Economic Data: Your trusted data source since 1991

The FRED® Blog

Posts tagged with: "IMPGS"

View this series on FRED

The business behind the trade balance

Why trade deficits decrease in recessions and increase in booms

How does the trade balance relate to economic activity? The graph above shows the U.S. trade balance for goods and services as a percentage of GDP. Obviously, there was a surplus initially and now there’s a persistent deficit. Beyond that, it looks like every time there’s a recession, the trade deficit tends to decrease. (Or, if we go farther back in the past, the trade surplus tends to increase.) Obviously, many things affect the trade balance, but let’s see what FRED can show us about this relationship.

A good way to reveal how series may be correlated is to look at scatter plots. Instead of relating economic data to dates, scatter plots relate two data series to each other, one on each axis. The graph above does this with changes to the trade balance ratio on one axis and percent changes to real GDP on the other axis. What may look like a random assortment of dots actually has some information. Imagine the graph is divided into four quadrants and then consider where the dots are located. The upper right and lower left quadrants have fewer data points than the other two, highlighting that there is indeed a negative correlation: That is, when real GDP tends to increase, the trade balance tends to decline—that is, trade surpluses decrease or trade deficits increase.

Why is that? First, consider that the trade balance is net exports—that is, exports minus imports. Imports are highly correlated with GDP, while exports are less so. We see this in the graph above, which plots imports. This time, the upper left and lower right quadrants are the most populated. This highlights the positive correlation: That is, when real GDP tends to increase, imports do as well. Thus, over the business cycle, it is really imports that drive the trade balance: When the economy is doing well, producers need more intermediate goods, and imports are mostly intermediate goods. Also households consume more, and a share of those consumption goods are imports. If you graph exports, the correlation is much harder to see. Exports depend much more on what happens abroad, which isn’t that well correlated with domestic activity.

How these graphs were created: First graph: Search for “net exports” and select the quarterly series. From the “Edit Graph” panle, add GDP and apply formula a/b*100. Second graph: Use the first graph and change the sample period to start in 1954. From the “Edit Graph” panel, change the units to “Change.” Add a line by searching for “real GDP,” change its units to “Percent change,” open the “Format” tab, and switch the type to “Scatter.” Third graph: Use the second graph but with real imports in percent change.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

View on FRED, series used in this post: GDP, GDPC1, IMPGS, NETEXP

Dollar strength and the trade balance

Has the exchange rate shifted the U.S. trade balance?

The exchange rate is the price of one country’s currency in terms of another country’s currency. For example, an exchange rate of 100 Japanese yen to the U.S. dollar means that you can exchange a single U.S. dollar for 100 Japanese yen. The exchange rate is important for international trade because changes in exchange rates often alter the prices of imported and exported goods between countries. For example, if the U.S. dollar appreciates with respect to the Japanese yen, Japanese consumers have to give up more Japanese yen to buy the same dollar value of U.S. goods exported to Japan. In other words, appreciation of the dollar implies that U.S. goods become more expensive to foreigners. On the other hand, appreciation of the dollar tends to make goods imported from other countries cheaper for U.S. consumers. Because of these changes in relative prices, appreciation of the dollar tends to increase imports and decrease exports, thereby deteriorating the trade balance. The trade balance is the total value of imported goods minus the total value of exported goods. Depreciation of the dollar has the opposite effect, likely improving the trade balance.

The graph above shows this relationship between the trade balance and the exchange rate. The green line plots the trade-weighted U.S. dollar index, which is “a weighted average of the foreign exchange value of the U.S. dollar against the currencies of a broad group of major U.S. trading partners.” A higher value of the index indicates a stronger dollar. The blue line is the trade balance-to-trade volume ratio. The trade volume is the sum of the total value of imports and exports. We look at the ratio instead of the trade balance directly because globalization has led to higher volumes of international trade over time. The ratio gives the difference between exports and imports as a share of total trade, thereby controlling for higher volumes.

Over the past three decades, the trade-weighted dollar index has varied significantly. For example, from the second quarter of 1995 to the first quarter of 2002, the index increased from 90 to 127, an appreciation of the dollar of over 40 percent. The corresponding trade balance-to-trade ratio drops from around –6 percent to –16 percent. In general, we see a negative relationship between the exchange rate and the trade balance.

However, the influence of the exchange rate on the trade balance varies over time. The recent appreciation of the dollar of 20 percent from 2014 to 2016 worsened the trade balance ratio only slightly. The trade balance’s tepid response is likely because of other changes to trade conditions, such as tariffs and regulations. The persistence of the U.S. trade deficit is also noteworthy. Throughout the 22-year span covered in our sample period, the U.S. continuously ran a trade deficit despite the large variation present in the exchange rate. In other words, adjustments to the exchange rate have not removed the U.S. trade deficit even in the long run.

How this graph was created: Search for and add “Trade Weighted U.S. Dollar Index: Broad (TWEXB)” to the graph on the left axis. From the “Edit Graph” tab, add “Exports of Goods and Services (EXPGS) and Imports of Goods and Services (IMPGS) as Line 2. To do this, enter the formula (a-b)/(a+b) in the Line 2 tab. Finally, change the starting date to “1995-01-01.”

Suggested by Yili Chien.

View on FRED, series used in this post: EXPGS, IMPGS, TWEXB

Subscribe to the FRED newsletter

Follow us

Back to Top