U.S. Trade Deficit Rose as Imports Bogged Down the Supply Chain

The trade deficit in September climbed to $80.9 billion, a record. Imports rose slightly, while exports fell.

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The U.S. trade deficit rose as a surge of imports bogged down the supply chain.

Demand for imported goods has climbed during the pandemic.Credit…Alan Devall/Reuters

Nov. 4, 2021, 9:47 a.m. ET

The U.S. trade deficit hit a record $80.9 billion in September, reflecting a surge in imported goods that continued to outpace American exports, data released by the Commerce Department on Thursday showed.

The trade deficit climbed 11.2 percent from August. Imports rose slightly to $288.5 billion, also the highest monthly total on record, as American purchased more foreign-made computers, cellphones, machinery and industrial chemicals.

Exports fell 3 percent to $207.6 billion, as congestion in ports and warehouses helped to slow the movement of goods out of the country.

A surge in demand for imported goods during the pandemic has combined with factory closures and a shortage of truckers and warehouse workers to fracture the supply chain that ferries goods to American stores and households. The disruptions and delays in global shipping are resulting in product shortages and higher prices, and curbing economic growth.

In the first nine months of the year, the trade deficit in both goods and services hit a record $638.6 billion, up 33.1 percent from the same period in 2020, as imports outpaced exports.

The data showed that services exports, typically a bright spot for the American economy, have started to rebound as the pandemic subsides and travel resumes.

The United States shipped less gold, crude oil and some types of machinery in September than the prior month, but exports of consumer goods and pharmaceutical ingredients were strong. Imports of cars remained weak because of a global semiconductor shortage.

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