The U.S. merchandise-trade deficit widened to a fresh record in September as exports retreated for the first time in seven months.
The gap increased to $96.3 billion last month from a revised $88.2 billion in August, according to Commerce Department data released Wednesday. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for an $88.3 billion shortfall. The figures aren’t adjusted for inflation.
The value of imports rose 0.5% to $238.4 billion, spurred by a 3.6% increase in the value of capital-goods shipments.
Automotive-vehicle shipments were the major exception, decreasing 7.7% to $25.9 billion amid a global shortage of semiconductors. It was the biggest drop since February.
Exports fell 4.7% from a record high in August to $142.2 billion, driven by a 9.9% decline in the value of outward shipments of industrial supplies and a 3.6% drop in capital goods.
The record goods-trade deficit is consistent with solid consumer demand and business investment. With inventories still very lean, strained supply chains and congested ports are making it difficult for U.S. importers to satisfy the robust appetite for finished goods and supplies.
The figures also come as domestic retailers are getting ready for the holiday-shopping season and concerns about shortages continue to mount.
Imports of consumer goods declined 0.7% to $62.8 billion, but remained near record levels.
The Commerce Department’s report also showed U.S. wholesale inventories climbed 1.1%, while retail inventories retreated 0.2%, the first drop since May.
A more complete September trade picture that includes the balance on services will come into greater focus when the final report is released on Nov. 4.