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Obama had better take credit for booming US trade quickly, or the oil lobby will

Pretty remarkable news on the seemingly perpetual US trade deficit: It narrowed sharply in June.

That’s right, the gap between the goods and services it buys from abroad and those the United States ships to foreigners shrank by $10 billion to $34.2 billion in June, the lowest since October 2009. Back then the trade balance was improving for all the wrong reasons. (Essentially, crude oil imports were collapsing as the US economy ground to a halt during the financial crisis and deep recession.)

And today oil is also playing an important role in the healthier American trade picture; The US is importing far less of the stuff thanks to growing domestic production of oil and gas.

But declining oil imports aren’t the whole story behind the shrinking US trade deficit. Exports jumped 2.2% in June to $191.2 billion, a fresh record high. Here’s a look at 20 years of data.

That’s a powerful talking point for US president Barack Obama, who’s made boosting exports a centerpiece of economic policy. From behind the presidential podium, Obama could try to capture the credit for the surge, perhaps by pointing out the 6.7% rise in consumer goods exports in June.

However, Obama opponents could defang that quite easily. Morgan Stanley economists note that the 3.7% surge in industrial exports was mostly due to petroleum products.

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