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Computers Are No. 1 Import Only Second Time, As Gold Fades From Top Spot

Computers were the top-ranked U.S. import in June, for only the second time in at least 18 years and, almost certainly, ever.

The previous month, in May, gold ranked first among more than 1,250 imports for the first time in at least 18 years — and almost certainly ever. It plunged 50.11% to No. 11.

April was the first time that computers ranked first, one month after motor vehicles ranked first.

Two years ago, from June 2018 and for the next three months, oil was the No. 1 import.

This is not typical

This level of disruption is not typical, of course, but it runs throughout the export-import trade data.

It comes with a diet of tariffs, a prolonged trade war, a deadly pandemic and the resultant economic crisis.

For the 40 months prior to June 2018, to those four months when oil ranked as the No. 1 import, motor vehicles had ranked first for 40 consecutive months.

For the 10 years and nine months prior to that, oil had ranked first.

Airports, seaports, border crossings

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Consider the nation’s airports, seaports and border crossings.

Prior to March of 2019, only one of the nation’s more than 450 trade gateway had ranked first for decades: the Port of Los Angeles.

But the U.S. trade war with China hit Los Angeles hard — and Laredo, a Texas border crossing with Mexico, ranked on top for the first time.

This year, four U.S. gateways ranked No. 1 in the first five months of the year:

In addition to the Port of Los Angeles and Laredo, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport — thanks to a spike in medical imports — and New York’s JFK International Airport — thanks to a spike in gold imports brought on by economic uncertainty — both ranked first for the first time.

Top U.S. trade partners

Consider the nation’s top trade partners.

Since last December, when Canada last ranked first on a monthly basis among the nation’s trade partners, both China and Mexico have ranked first. Prior to 2015, Canada had ranked as the nation’s top trade partner routinely. China surpassed it in 2016, when the price of oil — Canada is the top source for U.S. foreign oil — plunged.

China’s time on top was relatively short-lived, however, as the trade war allowed Mexico to rank first in 2019 for the first time ever.

Although imports have not been as severely affected as U.S. exports by the tariffs, trade war, pandemic and economic fallout, they have also dropped:

  • June imports were down 13.24% when compared to June of 2019,
  • Down 14.98% when compared to June of 2018,
  • Down 8.94% when compared to five years ago, June of 2015.

Exports were down 23.81%, 27.81% and 19.80 percent, respectively for those same time periods.

Imports that didn’t tumble

Among the top 25 U.S. imports, which accounted for 47.34% of total imports in June, there are three that have increased when compared to the previous month (May), June in the previous year, June of 2018 and June of 2015:

  • Cell phones and related equipment, currently the No. 3-ranked import,
  • Hard drives and related equipment, currently No. 22 but ranked No. 65 five years earlier,
  • Articles of plastic, currently ranked No. 25 but ranked No. 45 five years earlier, in June of 2015.

Imports that did tumble

Particularly hard hit among the top 25 imports:

  • No. 2 motor vehicles, down from June of 2019 by 48.14%, June of 2018 by 42.68% and June of 2015 by 40.75%.
  • No. 6 oil, down 58.61%, 66.32% and 58.41%, respectively.
  • No. 8 the dominant category of motor vehicle parts, down 32.98%, 35.47% and 38.77%.
  • No. 13 gasoline and other refined petroleum products, down 48.29%, 53.83% and 53.16%. It had ranked No. 8 in June of 2019.

Total imports for June, $179.73 billion, marked a 9.64% increase from May, when imports and exports fell sharply. Overall trade that month fell just under 30% when compared to the previous May.

Falling shy of $200 billion in 2020

The June 2020 total was the highest total since March and the third highest total of the year, trailing only January, when the total was a year-high $196.39 billion, and March.

In the 24 months prior to January, imports topped $200 billion all but three months.

You can see the top U.S. imports, ranked by month, year-to-date and for 2019 here.


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