U.S. Trade Deficit and the Impact of Changing Oil Prices James K. Jackson Specialist in International Trade and Finance May 13, 2010 Congressional Research Service 7-5700 www.crs.gov RS22204 CRS Report for Congress Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress U.S. Trade Deficit and the Impact of Changing Oil Prices Summary Petroleum prices rose sharply in the first half of 2008, at one time reaching more than $140 per barrel of crude oil. After July 2008, however, petroleum prices and import volumes fell at a historically rapid pace; in January 2009, prices of crude oil fell below $40 per barrel. Since then, crude oil prices have nearly doubled, while the average monthly volume of imports of energyrelated petroleum products has fallen nearly 10% year over year. Despite the drop in the volume of crude oil imports, the rise in the cost of energy imports through 2009 and early 2010 could add more than $100 billion to the nation’s trade deficit in 2010 over that experienced in 2009. The strength of the U.S. economic recovery in the second half of 2010 could increase both the volume of energy imports and the price of those imports. This report provides an estimate of the initial impact of the changing oil prices on the nation’s merchandise trade deficit. Congressional Research Service U.S. Trade Deficit and the Impact of Changing Oil Prices Contents Background ................................................................................................................................5 Issues for Congress ................................................................................................................... 10 Figures Figure 1. Quantity of U.S. Imports of Energy-Related Petroleum Products ..................................7 Figure 2. Value of U.S. Imports of Energy-Related Petroleum Products .......................................7 Figure 3. U.S. Import Price of Crude Oil .....................................................................................9 Tables Table 1. Summary Data of U.S. Imports of Energy-Related Petroleum Products, Including Oil (not seasonally adjusted) ....................................................................................................6 Table 2. U.S. Imports of Energy-Related Petroleum Products, Including Crude Oil (not seasonally adjusted) .................................................................................................................8 Contacts Author Contact Information ...................................................................................................... 11 Congressional Research Service U.S. Trade Deficit and the Impact of Changing Oil Prices Background According to data published by the Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce, 1 the prices of petroleum products over the first half of 2008 rose sharply, generally rising considerably faster than the change in demand for those products, before falling at a historic rate. After falling each month between August 2008 and February 2009, average petroleum prices reversed course and rose by 85% between February and December 2009, climbing to nearly $80 per barrel at times. Through the first three months of 2010, petroleum prices have hovered around $74 per barrel, but futures contracts indicate that prices could reach about $85 per barrel by the fall of 2010. As a result of changing petroleum prices, the price changes in imported energy-related petroleum products worsened the U.S. trade deficit in 2006, 2007, 2008, and likely will again in 2010. Energy-related petroleum products is a term used by the Census Bureau that includes crude oil, petroleum preparations, and liquefied propane and butane gas. Crude oil comprises the largest share by far within this broad category of energy-related imports. In 2009, the slowdown in the rate of growth in the U.S. economy reduced the amount of energy the country imported and helped to push down world energy prices. As economic growth improves, energy imports will increase and energy prices are expected to rise. In isolation from other events, lower energy prices tend to aid the U.S. economy, which makes it a more attractive destination for foreign investment. Such capital inflows place upward pressure on the dollar against a broad range of other currencies. To the extent that the additions to the merchandise trade deficit are returned to the U.S. economy as payment for additional U.S. exports or to acquire such assets as securities or U.S. businesses, the U.S. trade deficit could be mitigated further. Summary data from the Census Bureau for the change in the volume, or quantity, of energyrelated petroleum imports and the change in the price, or the value, of those imports for 2009 and for 2010 are presented in Table 1. The data indicate that during the first three months of 2010, the United States imported 1,012 million barrels of energy-related petroleum products, valued at $76 billion. Energy-related imports for this three-month period were down 9.5% in volume terms from the same period in 2009 and cost nearly twice as much as such imports during the same period in 2009. The data also indicate that the United States imported 4.3 billion barrels of total energy-related petroleum products in 2009, valued at $245 billion, compared with a total value of $439 billion in 2008. Also, in 2009, the quantity of energy-related petroleum imports fell by 4.0% compared with the comparable period in 2008; crude oil imports also fell by 2.7% from the same period in 2008. Year-over-year, the average value of energy-related petroleum products imports fell by 44%, while the average value of crude oil imports fell by 45%. As Figure 1 shows, imports of energyrelated petroleum products can vary sharply on a monthly basis. In 2009, imports of energyrelated petroleum products averaged about 355 million barrels a month. Through the first three months of 2010, such imports have averaged 337 million barrels a month, primarily due to low imports in February. 1 Census Bureau, Department of Commerce. Report FT900, U.S. International Trade in Goods and Services, May 12, 2010. Table 17. The report and supporting tables are available at http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/Press-Release/ current_press_release/ftdpress.pdf. Congressional Research Service 5 U.S. Trade Deficit and the Impact of Changing Oil Prices Table 1. Summary Data of U.S. Imports of Energy-Related Petroleum Products, Including Oil (not seasonally adjusted) January through March 2009 Total energyrelated Petroleum Products Crude oil 2010 Quantity (thousands of barrels) Value ($ thousands) Quantity (thousands of barrels) % change 2008 to 2009 Value ($ thousands) % change 2008 to 2009 1,118,040 $46,007,956 1,012,011 -9.5% $75,532,056 64.2% 844,703 $33,926,909 788,051 -6.7% $58,122,816 71.3% January through December 2009 2010 (Actual values) (Estimated values) Quantity (thousands of barrels) Value ($ thousands) Quantity (thousands of barrels) % change 2008 to 2009 Value ($ thousands) % change 2008 to 2009 Total energyrelated Petroleum products 4,263,292 $245,482,572 3,858,984 -9.5% $403,012,978 64.2% Crude oil 3,311,883 $188,498,323 3,089,764 -6.7% $322,912,044 71.3% Source: Census Bureau, Department of Commerce. Report FT900, U.S. International Trade in Goods and Services, May 12, 2010. Table 17. Note: Estimates for January through December 2009 were developed by CRS from data through March 2010 and data through 2009 published by the Census Bureau using a straight line extrapolation. In value terms, energy-related imports fell from $439 billion in 2008 to $245 billion in 2009, or a decrease of 44%, to account for about 16% of the value of total U.S. merchandise imports. Energy prices rose sharply in 2007 and continued from January through July 2008, not following previous trends of falling during the winter months. As Figure 2 shows, the cost of U.S. imports of energy-related petroleum products rose from about $17 billion per month in early 2007 to $53 billion a month in July 2008, but fell to $13.6 billion in February 2009, reflecting a drop in the price and in the volume of imported oil. The average price of imported oil in March 2010 was up 80% from the average price in March 2009. Energy imports accounted for $27 billion a month in March 2010, up from $16 billion a month in 2009, as indicated in Table 2. Congressional Research Service 6 U.S. Trade Deficit and the Impact of Changing Oil Prices Figure 1. Quantity of U.S. Imports of Energy-Related Petroleum Products Millions of barrels 450 440 430 420 410 400 390 380 370 360 350 340 330 320 310 Jan Mar May Jly S ep Nov Jan Mar May Jly S ep Nov Jan Mar Feb. Apr Jun Aug Oct Dec Feb Apr Jun Aug Oct Dec Feb 2008 2009 2010 Source: Department of Commerce Figure 2.Value of U.S. Imports of Energy-Related Petroleum Products Billions of dollars $52 $48 $44 $40 $36 $32 $28 $24 $20 $16 $12 Jan Mar May Jly S ep Nov Jan Mar May Jly S ep Nov Jan Mar Feb Apr Jun Aug Oct Dec Feb Apr Jun Aug Oct Dec Feb 2008 2009 2010 Source: Department of Commerce Congressional Research Service 7 U.S. Trade Deficit and the Impact of Changing Oil Prices Table 2. U.S. Imports of Energy-Related Petroleum Products, Including Crude Oil (not seasonally adjusted) Total energy-related petroleum products Quantity (thousands of barrels) Period Value ($ thousands) Crude oil Quantity (thousands of barrels) Thousands of barrels per day (average) Value ($ thousands) Unit price (dollars) 2009 Jan.-Dec. 4,263,292 $245,482,572 3,311,883 9,074 $188,498,323 $56.92 Jan.-Mar. 1,118,040 46,007,956 844,703 9,386 33,928,909 40.17 January 404,658 16,342,408 300,137 9,682 11,949,605 39.81 February 335,912 13,618,145 254,874 9,103 9,996,300 39.22 March 377,470 16,047,403 289,693 9,345 11,983,004 41.36 April 367,943 17,403,719 292,601 9,753 13,633,848 46.60 May 338,081 17,703,718 261,888 8,448 13,410,641 51.21 June 369,963 22,415,123 280,424 9,347 16,592,370 59.17 July 377,218 23,720,887 296,274 9,557 18,510,434 62.48 August 338,539 22,389,783 268,429 8,659 17,381,693 64.75 September 361,956 24,872,287 286,217 9,541 19,511,645 68.17 October 329,245 22,450,143 258,829 8,349 17,441,313 67.39 November 314,238 22,969,832 245,448 8,182 17,805,957 72.54 December 348,069 25,549,123 277,069 8,938 20,281,513 73 2010 Jan.-Mar. 1,012,011 75,532,056 788,051 8,756 58,122,816 73.76 January 329,246 24,681,956 245,273 7,912 18,122,185 73.89 February 313,293 23,040,666 243,305 8,689 17,742,303 72.92 March 369,473 27,809,434 299,473 9,660 22,258,328 74.32 Source: Census Bureau, Department of Commerce. Report FT900, U.S. International Transactions in Goods and Services. May 12, 2010. Table 17. a. Energy-related petroleum products is a term used by the Census Bureau and includes crude oil, petroleum preparations, and liquefied propane and butane gas. As a result of the overall drop in the overall value of energy-related imports in 2009, the trade deficit in energy-related imports amounted to $204 billion, down by nearly half from the $386 billion recorded in 2008, and accounted for 40% of the total U.S. trade deficit of $517 billion for the year. In the three-month period of January-March 2010, the rise in oil prices, year over year, combined with an increased demand for energy imports, pushed up the overall value of energy imports, which accounted for 46% of the total merchandise trade deficit. This share is up from the 34% share of the trade deficit experienced during the same period in 2009. Congressional Research Service 8 U.S. Trade Deficit and the Impact of Changing Oil Prices Crude oil comprises the largest share of energy-related petroleum products imports. According to Census Bureau data2, imports of crude oil fell from an average of 9.8 million barrels of crude oil imports per day in 2008 to an average of 9.1 million barrels per day in 2009, or a decrease of 7%. In March 2010, such imports averaged 9.7 million barrels per day, or an increase of 3.4% over the volume of such imports recorded in March 2009. From January 2008 to June 2008, the average price of crude oil increased from $84 per barrel to $117 per barrel, or an increase of 39%, as shown in Figure 3. As a result, the value of U.S. crude oil imports rose from about $27 billion a month in January 2008 to $35 billion a month in June 2008. Figure 3. U.S. Import Price of Crude Oil Dollars per barrel $125 $120 $115 $110 $105 $100 $95 $90 $85 $80 $75 $70 $65 $60 $55 $50 $45 $40 $35 Jan Mar May Jly S ep Nov Jan Mar May Jly S ep Nov Jan Mar Feb Apr Jun Aug Oct Dec Feb Apr Jun Aug Oct Dec Feb 2008 2009 2010 Source: Department of Commerce Data for 2009 indicate that a number of factors, primarily the economic recession, had a large impact on pushing down oil prices in the first three months. As economic growth picked up, the higher demand tended to raise pressure on oil prices, which rose through the end of the year. The rise in oil prices combined with an increase in the volumes of oil imports experienced during the period combined to raise the overall cost of imported energy. At times, crude oil traded for nearly $148 per barrel in July 2008, indicating that the cost of energy imports would have a significant impact on the overall costs of U.S. imports and on the value of the U.S. trade deficit. Since those record prices, the price per barrel of imported crude oil fell to under $40 per barrel at times in January and February 2009. For the year 2009, the imported volume of energy-related petroleum products fell by 44%, due in large part to a slowdown in economic activity. At an average price of $56 per barrel in 2009, compared with an average price of $95 per barrel in 2008, energy-related import fell by nearly $130 billion as a factor in the overall U.S. trade deficit. For 2010, the total cost of energy imports could rise to more than $300 billion at an average price of $75 per barrel 2 Report FT900, U.S. International Trade in Goods and Services, May 12, 2010. Table 17. Congressional Research Service 9 U.S. Trade Deficit and the Impact of Changing Oil Prices and could rise to nearly $330 billion at an average price of $85 per barrel and account for nearly half of the annual trade deficit. Issues for Congress The rise in the prices of energy imports experienced since early 2000 through March 2010 could have a significant impact on the annual U.S. trade deficit in 2010, should those price increase stick, or run even higher. The rise in energy prices may well affect the U.S. rate of inflation and could have a slightly negative impact on the rate of economic growth in 2010. Various factors, dominated by the rate of economic growth in the United States and Western Europe, could combine to push up the cost of energy imports, which will have a slightly negative impact on the pace of the economic recovery. Typically, energy import prices have followed a cyclical pattern that has caused energy prices to rise in the summer and decline in the winter. The slowdown in the rate of economic growth in the United States and elsewhere in 2009 sharply reduced the demand for energy imports and caused oil prices to tumble from the heights they reached in July 2008. An important factor that often affects crude oil prices is the impact Atlantic hurricanes have on the production of crude oil in the Gulf of Mexico The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and concerns over the safety of oil wells in the region could dampen somewhat oil production and further strain supplies as summer demand increases. The return to a positive rate of economic growth will continue to place upward pressure on the prices of energy imports and contribute to the nation’s merchandise trade deficit. Some of the impact of this deficit could be offset if some of the dollars that accrue abroad are returned to the U.S. economy through increased purchases of U.S. goods and services or through purchases of such other assets as corporate securities or acquisitions of U.S. businesses. Some of the return in dollars likely will come through sovereign wealth funds (SWFs), or funds controlled and managed by foreign governments, as foreign exchange reserves boost the dollar holdings of such funds. Such investments likely will add to concerns about the national security implications of foreign acquisitions of U.S. firms, especially by foreign governments, and to concerns about the growing share of outstanding U.S. Treasury securities that are owned by foreigners. It is likely that the economy will again face high and rising prices for imported energy products as national economies recover to a more robust rate of economic growth. It is possible for the economy to adjust to the higher prices of energy imports by improving its energy efficiency, finding alternative sources of energy, or searching out additional supplies of energy. There may well be increased pressure applied to Congress to assist in this process. For Congress, the increase in the nation’s merchandise trade deficit could add to existing inflationary pressures and complicate efforts to stimulate the economy should the rate of economic growth flatten out. In particular, Congress, through its direct role in making economic policy and its oversight role over the Federal Reserve, could face the dilemma of rising inflation, which generally is treated by raising interest rates to tighten credit, and a slow rate of economic growth, which is usually addressed by lowering interest rates to stimulate investment. A sharp rise in the trade deficit may also add to pressures for Congress to examine the causes of the deficit and to address the underlying factors that are generating that deficit. In addition, the rise in prices of energy imports could add to concerns about the nation’s reliance on foreign supplies for energy imports and add impetus to examining the nation’s energy strategy. Congressional Research Service 10 U.S. Trade Deficit and the Impact of Changing Oil Prices Author Contact Information James K. Jackson Specialist in International Trade and Finance jjackson@crs.loc.gov, 7-7751 Congressional Research Service 11