U.S. Trade Deficit and the Impact of Changing Oil Prices James K. Jackson Specialist in International Trade and Finance July 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. Should the U.S. economic recovery continue strongly in the second half of 2010, it 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 ................................................................................................................... 11 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 .......................................8 Figure 3. U.S. Import Price of Crude Oil ................................................................................... 10 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) .................................................................................................................9 Contacts Author Contact Information ...................................................................................................... 12 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 five months of 2010, petroleum prices have hovered around $74 per barrel. Average prices dropped in May 2010, one of only three times average monthly petroleum prices have declined since January 2009. Futures contracts, however, indicate that prices could reach over $80 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, and 2008, and likely will again in 2010. Energy-related petroleum products is a term used by the U.S. 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 energyrelated 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 five months of 2010, the United States imported about 1.7 billion barrels of energy-related petroleum products, valued at $132 billion. Energy-related imports for this five-month period were down 4.8% in volume terms from the same period in 2009 and cost nearly twice as much as such imports during the same period in 2009. 1 U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau, Report FT900, U.S. International Trade in Goods and Services, Table 17, July 13, 2010. The report and supporting tables are available at http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/PressRelease/current_press_release/ftdpress.pdf. Congressional Research Service 5 U.S. Trade Deficit and the Impact of Changing Oil Prices Table 1. Summary Data of U.S. Imports of Energy-Related Petroleum Products, Including Oil (not seasonally adjusted) January through May 2009 2010 Quantity (thousands of barrels) Value ($ thousands) Quantity (thousands of barrels) % change 2008 to 2009 Value ($ thousands) % change 2008 to 2009 Total energyrelated petroleum products 1,823,916 $81,107,666 1,736,086 -4.8% $131,957,589 62.7% Crude oil 1,399,356 $60,984,139 1,362,198 -2.7% $102,351,396 67.8% January through December 2009 2010 (Actual values) (Estimated values) Quantity (thousands of barrels) Value ($ thousands) Quantity (thousands of barrels) % change 2008 to 2009 Value ($ thousands) % change 2008 to 2009 Total energyrelated petroleum products 4,266,007 $245,690,140 4,060,579 -4.8% $399,723,973 62.7% Crude oil 3,314,787 $188,711,775 3,226,767 -2.7% $316,720,281 67.8% Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau, Report FT900, U.S. International Trade in Goods and Services, Table 17, July 13, 2010. Note: Estimates for January through December 2009 were developed by CRS from data through May 2010 and data through 2009 published by the Census Bureau using a straight line extrapolation. The data also indicate that the United States imported 4.3 billion barrels of total energy-related petroleum products in 2009, valued at $246 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% in 2009, while the average value of crude oil imports fell by 45%. As Figure 1 shows, imports of energy-related petroleum products can vary sharply on a monthly basis. In 2009, imports of energy-related petroleum products averaged about 355 million barrels a month. Through the first five months of 2010, such imports have averaged 347 million barrels a month, primarily due to low imports in February. 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 $440 Millions of barrels $420 $400 $380 $360 $340 $320 2009 May April March February January December November October September July August May June April March February January December October 2008 November September July August May June April $300 2010 Source: Department of Commerce. 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 rising 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 May 2010 was up 50% from the average price in May 2009. Total energy imports in May 2010 fell slightly from April 2010 to $27.6 billion, up from $17.7 billion in 2009, as indicated in Table 2. Congressional Research Service 7 U.S. Trade Deficit and the Impact of Changing Oil Prices Figure 2.Value of U.S. Imports of Energy-Related Petroleum Products $45 $40 Billions of dollars $35 $30 $25 $20 $15 $10 2008 2009 May April March January February December November October August September July June May April March January February December October November September July August May June April $5 2010 Source: Department of Commerce. As a result of the 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 $517 billion for the year. In the five-month period of January-May 2010, the steep rise in oil prices, year over year, combined with a slight decrease in demand for energy imports, pushed up the overall value of energy imports, which accounted for 45% of the total merchandise trade deficit. This share is up from the 36% share of the trade deficit experienced during the same period in 2009. In May 2010, however, the share of the U.S. trade deficit arising from energy imports fell to 39% from the 46% recorded in April 2010 due to a 16% increase in the non-energy portion of the trade deficit. Congressional Research Service 8 U.S. Trade Deficit and the Impact of Changing Oil Prices Table 2. U.S. Imports of Energy-Related Petroleum Products, Including Crude Oil (not seasonally adjusted) Total energy-related petroleum productsa Quantity (thousands of barrels) Period Value ($ thousands) Crude oil Quantity (thousands of barrels) Thousands of barrels per day (average) Value ($ thousands) Unit price (dollars) 2009 Jan.-Dec. 4,266,007 $245,690,140 3,314,787 9,082 $188,711,775 $56.93 Jan.-May 1,823,916 81,107,666 1,399,356 9,267 60,984,139 43.58 January 405,890 16,398,894 301,069 9,712 12,000,941 39.86 February 335,510 13,586,823 254,504 9,089 9,962,489 39.14 March 378,997 16,084,729 291,514 9,404 12,033,939 41.28 April 366,401 17,354,644 290,973 9,699 13,582,121 46.68 May 337,118 17,682,576 261,296 8,429 13,404,650 51.30 June 371,612 22,515,808 282,057 9,402 16,691,240 59.18 July 375,723 23,642,907 294,634 9,504 18,421,260 62.52 August 339,446 22,459,799 268,878 8,673 17,417,873 64.78 September 361,561 24,845,000 286,200 9,540 19,511,044 68.17 October 328,767 22,416,890 258,420 8,336 17,410,475 67.37 November 314,726 23,011,887 245,925 8,198 17,847,016 72.57 December 350,256 25,690,185 279,317 9,010 20,428,728 73.14 2010 Jan.-May 1,736,086 131,957,589 1,362,198 9,021 102,351,396 75.14 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 April 368,731 28,828,138 294,118 9,804 22,685,592 77.13 May 355,344 27,597,395 280,029 9,033 21,542,988 76.93 Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau, Report FT900, U.S. International Trade in Goods and Services, Table 17, July 17, 2010. 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. Crude oil comprises the largest share of energy-related petroleum products imports. According to Census Bureau data,2 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 May 2010, such imports averaged 9.0 million barrels per day, or an increase of 7% over the volume of such imports recorded in April 2009. From January 2008 to June 2008, the average 2 Report FT900, U.S. International Transactions in Goods and Services, Table 17, July 13, 2010. Congressional Research Service 9 U.S. Trade Deficit and the Impact of Changing Oil Prices 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 $125 $115 Dollars per barrel $105 $95 $85 $75 $65 $55 $45 May April March February January December November October September July 2009 August May June April March January February December October 2008 November August September July June May April $35 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 and an increase in the volumes of oil imports 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 imports fell by nearly $130 billion as a component in the overall U.S. trade deficit. For 2010, the total cost of energy imports could rise to about $300 billion at an average price of $75 per barrel 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. Congressional Research Service 10 U.S. Trade Deficit and the Impact of Changing Oil Prices Issues for Congress The rise in the prices of energy imports experienced since early 2000 through April 2010 could have a significant impact on the annual U.S. trade deficit in 2010, should those price increases 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 somewhat dampen 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, 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 11 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 12