The U.S. trade deficit inched up by 0.6% in April, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. If this was because American consumers were purchasing more goods and services from overseas firms, this wouldn't be very significant news -- that's a trend we have come to expect. Instead, a decline in exports drove the deficit growth. This might indicate that global instability affecting the demand for American products.
U.S. imports actually declined by $784 million in April. But exports declined more -- by $1.0 billion. That's why the trade deficit widened by $238 million.
How notable is the decline in exports? It's the largest we've seen since March 2009. Since that time, imports have grown in every month except for January 2010, when they decreased by a tiny $120 million. The rose a dramatic $5.5 billion in March 2010.
April could just be a blip, but if you have been observing Europe's fiscal problems, you might argue the decline in exports indicates the beginning of a new trend. If sovereign debt problems drive the continent into recession, then U.S. exports will decline. Even though exports only accounted for about 12% of GDP in the first quarter, it certainly won't help the economic recovery in the U.S. if they suffer.
Note: All data above is seasonally adjusted.