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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

U.S. Trade Deficit and the Impact of Changing Oil Prices

James K. Jackson
Specialist in International Trade and Finance

Petroleum prices rose sharply between January 2012 and April 2012, at times reaching more than $109 per barrel of crude oil. Although this is still below the $140 per barrel price reached in 2008, the rising cost of energy was one factor that helped to dampen the rate of growth in the economy during the second half of 2011 and the first half of 2012. Since June 2012, oil prices have hovered around $95 per barrel. As the price of oil rose, the volume of oil imports, or the amount of oil imported, decreased slightly from the comparable period in 2011. In general, market demand for oil remains highly resistant to changes in oil prices and reflects the unique nature of the demand for energy-related imports. In addition, sustained demand for crude oil in the face of higher prices reflected an increase in economic activity that occurred following the worst part of the economic recession in 2009. Turmoil in the Middle East was an important factor that caused petroleum prices to rise sharply in early 2011 and in 2012. Although prices for imported crude oil fluctuated somewhat throughout 2011, they averaged 30% higher than in 2010 and added about $100 billion to the total U.S. trade deficit in 2011. On average, energy import prices in 2012 were slightly higher than they were in 2011, pushing up the price of energy to consumers. During the same period, the total amount of petroleum products imported by the United States in 2012 fell below that imported in 2011, reducing the overall cost of imported energy to the economy and the overall trade deficit. Oil futures markets in April 2013 indicated that oil traders expected prices to trend downward from the average per barrel price of $95 recorded in December 2012 to around $90 per barrel by the fall of 2013. At times, some elements of the public pressured Congress to provide relief to households that are struggling to meet their current expenses. This report provides an estimate of the initial impact of the changing oil prices on the nation’s merchandise trade balance.

Date of Report: May 9, 2013
Number of Pages: 13
Order Number: RS22204
Price: $29.95

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