Why Investors Care
Changes in the levels of imports and exports, along with the difference between the two (the trade balance), are valuable gauges of economic trends here and abroad. While these trade figures can directly impact all financial markets, they primarily affect the value of the dollar in the foreign exchange market.
Imports indicate demand for foreign goods here in the United States. Exports show foreign demand for U.S. goods. The dollar can be particularly sensitive to changes in the chronic trade deficit run by the United States, since this trade imbalance creates greater demand for foreign currencies.
Market reaction to this report is complex. Typically, the smaller the trade deficit, the more bullish it is for the dollar. Also, stronger exports are bullish for corporate earnings and the stock market. Like most economic indicators, the trade balance is subject to substantial monthly variability, especially when oil prices change.
It is also useful to examine the trend growth rates for exports and imports separately because they can deviate significantly. Trends in export activity reflect both the competitive position of American industry and the strength of domestic and foreign economic activity. U.S. exports will grow when: 1) U.S. product prices are lower than foreign product prices; 2) the value of the dollar is relatively weaker than that of foreign currencies; 3) foreign economies are growing rapidly.
Imports will increase when: 1) foreign product prices are lower than prices of domestically-produced goods; 2) the value of the dollar is stronger than that of other currencies; 3) domestic demand for goods and services is robust.