Unexpectedly Intriguing!
May 8, 2014

After falling below the recession line in February 2014, it would appear that the U.S. economy began to rebound in March 2014, as measured by the value of goods imported by the U.S. from China in that month.

Year-Over-Year Growth Rate of U.S.-China Trade, January 1986 - March 2014

Meanwhile, the value of goods exported by the U.S. to China in March 2014 also picked up over the level recorded in February 2014, although here, we suspect that the relative timing of China's New Year and Spring Festival in 2014 boosted the direct year-over-year growth rate.

To get a better sense of how both the U.S. and China's economies are performing, we accounted for the variable timing of China's New Year and Spring Festival calculating the rolling sum of each nation's imports and exports to each other over a two month period, then calculated the year-over-year growth rate. Since China's New Year and Spring Festival can fall in either January or February, or even be split between these two months, this approach should allow us to make decent year-over-year measurement of the growth rate of trade between the two nations.

The results of that exercise are presented below, with the month indicated the second of the two months whose trade values were added together:

Year-Over-Year Growth Rate of Two-Month Sum of U.S.-China Trade, January 1986 - March 2014

This chart is cool because it shows the massive impact of the U.S.' 2013 bumper crop of soybeans, which was harvested in the third quarter of 2013 and followed by the exporting of every bushel of harvested soybeans that could be put in a container ship to China in the fourth quarter of that year. One result of the decision by the U.S.' behemoth soybean processors to export so many soybeans is that U.S. stockpiles have shrunk so much that it's causing U.S. soybean prices to sharply rise in response to the domestic shortage.

More interesting though is what we find when we look at the fate of China's exports to the United States. Here, we see the year-over-year growth rate of the value and volume of trade plunge in February 2014, but then begin to rebound in March 2014.

That's significant because of the typical three-week transit time for goods crossing the Pacific Ocean to get from China's export centers to the U.S.' west coast ports and also the time for Chinese manufacturers to produce the goods that they would ship to the U.S., which precedes the shipping of those goods by weeks and months. None of which, we should note, would have been impacted at all by extreme winter weather occurring in the upper midwest and eastern U.S.

What that means is that Chinese producers anticipated that the U.S. economy would be experiencing contractionary conditions long before they actually arrived and adjusted their export plans accordingly.

Data Sources

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. China / U.S. Foreign Exchange Rate. G.5 Foreign Exchange Rates. Accessed 7 May 2014.

U.S. Census Bureau. Trade in Goods with China. Accessed 7 May 2014.


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