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U.S. Trade Deficit Shrinks
The United States trade deficit in goods and services narrowed for the third consecutive month in September on growing exports and shrinking imports, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce last week. The deficit fell $43.1 billion, the lowest point so far this year.
Exports rose $2.5 billion in September to $180.4 billion, the highest level this year, reflecting a jump in shipments of industrial supplies ($1.4 billion), consumer goods ($0.8 billion) and automotive vehicles, parts and engines ($0.2 billion), against a decline in services exports ($0.1 billion). Imports increased $0.7 billion to $223.5 billion, due largely to increases in industrial supplies and materials ($0.9 billion), automotive vehicles, parts and engines ($0.5 billion) and foods, feeds and beverages ($0.2 billion).
Meanwhile, the politically sensitive trade deficit with China shrank from $29 billion in August to $28.1 billion in September, almost entirely due to a $0.9 billion drop in imports of Chinese-made goods (primarily computers and accessories and footwear). Exports were virtually unchanged at $8.4 billion.
On a year-over-year basis, the goods and services deficit decreased $0.9 billion. From September 2010, to September 2011, exports rose by $24.7 billion (15.9 percent), and imports increased by $23.8 billion (11.9 percent).
"Through September, the deficit is running at an annual rate of $558.2 billion, up 11.6 percent from the imbalance for all of last year of $500 billion," the Associated Press explains. "A higher deficit acts as a drag on economic growth because it means fewer jobs for American workers. However, with the deficit falling for the last three months, that could provide a small boost to growth in the July-September quarter."
Jobless Claims Hits Seven-Month Low
New initial jobless claims fell in the latest week reported. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, seasonally adjusted unemployment claims for the week ending November 5 decreased by 10,000 to a total of 390,000, down from an upwardly revised 400,000 the prior week. The four-week moving average dropped by 5,250 to 400,000, the lowest level since mid-April.
"It was around that time last spring when the U.S. job market was hit hard by uncertainties created by the earthquake in Japan and rapidly rising prices for raw materials, namely oil," CNNMoney reports. "Half a year later it seems those troubles, for the most part, have faded, and economic growth has started to accelerate again in the United States. That slight improvement in the economy has been reflected by the initial claims figures, which have resumed a downward trend."
The recent drop in initial unemployment claims exceeded expectations, as economists polled by MarketWatch had forecast a decrease of only 2,000, while analysts surveyed by Reuters expected relatively no change in the jobless situation. Crucially, the seasonally adjusted total has fallen below the 400,000 mark, which many economists consider the threshold for improving labor market conditions.
"Waning dismissals pave the way for bigger gains in payrolls and in consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy," Bloomberg News explains. "At the same time, a pickup in hiring is needed to cut the unemployment rate, which Federal Reserve officials predict will not drop below 8 percent until 2013."
Mobile Data Traffic to Increase Tenfold in Five Years
As more industry professionals rely on laptops, smart phones and other mobile devices to conduct work on-the-go or from remote sites, these technologies are also increasingly extending into their personal lives. A new report indicates that mobile data traffic is about to enter a tremendous growth phase, increasing tenfold between 2011 and 2016.
According to the telecom firm Ericsson, mobile broadband subscriptions will reach nearly 5 billion worldwide in 2016, up from the 900 million expected through the end of 2011 and representing 60 percent year-over-year growth. Global smart phone usage is forecast to triple this year alone.
"Mobile broadband, new smart phone launches and applications uptake will continue to drive data consumption," according to an announcement of the findings. "At the same time, there is strong momentum for smart phone uptake in all regions. Ericsson expects traffic generated by advanced smart phones to increase 12-fold to roughly equal mobile PC-generated traffic by 2016."
Mobile Internet usage surpasses even "traditional" phone functions, as mobile data traffic more than doubled voice data in Q1 2011. Ericsson expects the number of high-traffic smart phones to increase by more than five times and traffic to surge by 12 times through 2016. Meanwhile, mobile PC subscriptions are forecast to double, with related traffic climbing eight times higher, and tablet subscriptions growing tenfold and generating 40 times as much traffic.
Increasing urbanization around the world is also likely to play an important role in the adoption and spread of mobile technologies. The study notes that by 2016, more than 60 percent of the world's population will live in metropolitan areas with a density exceeding 1,000 people per square kilometer. While these areas represent less than 1 percent of the planet's land area, they are expected to generate roughly 60 percent of total mobile traffic.