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Monday, July 6, 2020

Gold Surges to Top of U.S. Import List

The list of imports into the U.S. was shaken up in May, with gold surging 1,700% from 2019 to now stand at the top import. Here's what's behind the change.

Released last week, the Census Bureau's much-anticipated report lived up to expectations, if only in terms of impact. Perhaps the most shocking number in the report pertained to U.S. trade data, revealing that April's 20.91% year-to-date plunge in trade was followed by a 29.83% plunge in May. There were upsides, too, such as the government's announcement that it posted 4.8 million jobs in June and signs that the domestic trade deficit is shrinking.

Yet whatever the upsides seem to be, Forbes contributor Ken Roberts believes that a closer look into the trade data reveals some major red flags that are likely being overlooked. As Roberts notes, U.S. exports made up for only 36% of overall U.S. trade in May, which might be the lowest export-to-import ratio on record. As Roberts explains, the trade deficit doesn't paint an accurate-enough picture of the economy, and it appears to be masking one of the biggest monthly falls in exports relative to imports ever.

The curiosities related to the trade data don't stop there, though, as an overview of the goods that are being brought in has made international trade look closer to a portfolio reassessment. Normally, computers are the top U.S. import, with passenger vehicles not trailing too far off. In May, however, imports of foreign vehicles fell by a massive 76.88% compared to the same month last year. 

Meanwhile, gold replaced computers as the top U.S. import for the month, with the value of gold imports increasing some 1,700% compared to the previous months of May.

These numbers somewhat tie into both the intense demand for physical gold in recent months and supply shortages in key places. As Switzerland, a top gold processor and exporter, all but closed up shop due to safety precautions, worries over supply escalated. What started as a supply concern among bullion buyers soon translated to questions over whether there would be enough physical gold to cover the metal's derivatives.

But even the well-documented scramble to obtain bullion by virtually every party over the past few months might not have prepared analysts for the import figures. $3.07 tons of gold were brought into the U.S. in March, followed by $7.54 billion in April and $8.77 billion in May. In the past decade, monthly gold imports into the U.S. exceeded $2 billion on just three occasions. Furthermore, the combined bullion imports between March and May eclipsed 2016's annual figure, which was the highest on record.