WASHINGTON – The ending of the recession is boosting global trade, increasing U.S. imports by a record amount in July and boosting foreign demand for American goods for a third straight month.
While the job market remains a long way from recovering, first-time claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, offering some cause for optimism.
The jump in imports could be a sign that U.S. consumer spending is recovering, economists said. That’s good news because such spending accounts for 70 percent of economic activity.
“Domestic demand has picked up now that we have shifted from recession to recovery,” Bernard Baumohl, chief economist for the Global Outlook Group, said in a note to clients.
The Commerce Department said Thursday that the trade deficit rose 16.3 percent to $32 billion in July. Economists expected an imbalance of $27.4 billion.
Imports rose 4.7 percent to $159.6 billion, the largest monthly advance on records that date to 1992 and the second consecutive gain after 10 straight declines.
The rebound reflected a 21.5 percent spike in imports of autos and auto parts, partly due to increased production at U.S. auto plants owned by General Motors and Chrysler that had been slowed when the companies were struggling to emerge from bankruptcy protection.
Exports edged up 2.2 percent to $127.6 billion. It marked the third straight monthly increase, but left exports well below their record level of $164.4 billion set in July 2008.
Some economists saw the increased imports as a sign that retailers and manufacturers are rebuilding their inventories, which could lead to greater production.