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Tag Archives: Imports

Providing Context for Recent Increases in Gasoline Prices

If you’ve filled your car’s gas tank recently, you may have been surprised at how much more gas costs than it did just a few months ago or in early 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. In recent months, gasoline prices have increased sharply and have pushed up overall consumer inflation. We documented the dramatic price declines for petroleum products that occurred in early 2020 in a recent Monthly Labor Review article. The article also documented the partial recovery in prices last summer.

Let’s now look at what has happened with oil and gas prices since we published that article. We’ll see that gasoline prices mostly just recovered from the steep declines experienced early in the pandemic.

The following chart shows the monthly percent change in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for gasoline and for all items since October 2020.

Consumer Price Index for all items and for gasoline (all types), seasonally adjusted monthly percent changes, October 2020 to March 2021

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

After smaller increases in October and November, the CPI gasoline index rose much more rapidly in December and the first 3 months of 2021. Overall, in the 4 months from November to March, gasoline prices increased about 31 percent. Over the same 4 months, the CPI for all items increased 1.5 percent.

Meanwhile, the increase in gasoline prices as measured by the Producer Price Index (PPI) has been larger than the increase in consumer prices. In the last 4 months, the PPI gasoline index increased about 58 percent.

The following chart shows the change in the CPI and PPI gasoline indexes since January 2020.

Consumer Price Index and Producer Price Index for gasoline, seasonally adjusted, January 2020 to March 2021

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Gasoline prices fell sharply at the start of the pandemic and then partially rebounded through the summer of 2020. The prices that gasoline producers received declined much more at the start of the pandemic than did the prices consumers paid. Producer prices also were slower to recover than consumer prices. The recent increase in gasoline prices continued the recovery from the sharp declines at the start of the pandemic. Through February 2021, consumer prices for gasoline were still down 2.8 percent from January 2020. Producer prices for gasoline had fully recovered the pandemic-related declines by February 2021 and were back to January 2020 levels. In March 2021, consumer and producer prices for gasoline rose sharply and were above their January 2020 levels.

The differences between consumer and producer gasoline prices can be partly explained by larger margins for fuel retailers. Gasoline retailers are often slower to pass increases or decreases in their purchase costs on to consumers because they are uncertain about future costs and because of competition in the retail gasoline market. The PPI for “automotive fuels and lubricants retailing” measures the margin for gasoline retailers. The chart below shows that this margin increased sharply in March and April 2020 when oil prices dropped. The margin then decreased over the summer months as oil prices increased. In March 2021, retail gasoline margins were still 16.6 percent above January 2020 levels, in seasonally unadjusted terms.

Producer Price Index for automotive fuels and lubricants retailing, January 2020 to March 2021

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Gasoline prices tend to be volatile, and large moves, such as this winter’s, occur often. Consumer gasoline prices rose 24.7 percent in the first 3 months of 2021. Since 2001, the CPI gasoline index has had six increases that large or larger in 3 months. The most recent instance of a larger increase over 3 months was a 26.4-percent increase from May to August 2009.

Over the past 4 months, the sharp rise in gasoline prices has contributed to increasing overall prices as measured by the CPI for all items. In each of the last 4 months, half or more of the monthly increase in the all-items index was due to the increase in gasoline prices. This means that, if the price of gasoline had been unchanged in each of these months, the overall CPI would have increased by less than half of the 1.5-percent increase over this period.

One way to strip out the effects of gasoline prices on overall prices is to look at prices for all items less energy. The following chart shows the monthly change in the CPI for all item and the CPI for all items less energy.

Consumer Price Index, 1-month percent change, seasonally adjusted, January 2020 to March 2021

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

From July through December 2020, the indexes moved similarly each month. That means energy price changes were close to the price changes of other items. The two indexes have diverged in the last 3 months, however, with the index for all items less energy increasing much less than the index for all items.

Crude oil prices have a large effect on gasoline prices. The following chart shows the changes in the PPI for crude petroleum and in the Import Price Index for crude petroleum since January 2020. The PPI measures price changes for domestic producers of crude oil, while the Import Price Index tracks price changes for oil purchased from foreign producers.

Producer and import price indexes for crude petroleum, January 2020 to March 2021

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Overall, producer prices and import prices for crude oil track closely together. Both declined sharply as the COVID-19 pandemic began and partly recovered through the early fall. From November 2020 to March 2021, both had large increases—60.3 percent for the PPI and 46.5 percent for import prices—and now exceed their January 2020 levels.

Market analysis by the Energy Information Administration identifies several contributors to recent oil and gas price increases. One is optimism over the economic recovery from the pandemic and expectations of increased energy demand as more people receive COVID-19 vaccinations. Another is the continued cooperation among members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other oil-producing countries to limit crude oil production. Finally, in February, weather-related supply disruptions also contributed to price increases.

Although gasoline prices have increased sharply in recent months and have contributed to increases in overall consumer prices, gasoline prices are only just recovering January 2020 levels. Gasoline makes up only about 3 percent of the market basket for the CPI, and its share has been declining. Gasoline still is an important driver of changes in the overall index because of frequent large fluctuations in gas prices. Price changes in gasoline and crude oil can also affect the prices of other items because gas and oil are important for producing many goods and services.

Consumer Price Index for all items and for gasoline (all types), seasonally adjusted monthly percent changes
MonthGasoline, all typesAll items

Oct 2020

0.70.1

Nov 2020

0.50.2

Dec 2020

5.20.2

Jan 2021

7.40.3

Feb 2021

6.40.4

Mar 2021

9.10.6
Consumer Price Index and Producer Price Index for gasoline, seasonally adjusted
MonthCPI for gasolinePPI for gasoline

Jan 2020

100.000100.000

Feb 2020

95.76697.003

Mar 2020

86.60471.609

Apr 2020

69.95532.440

May 2020

66.51844.322

Jun 2020

73.41061.409

Jul 2020

76.92866.193

Aug 2020

78.57667.192

Sep 2020

79.89167.613

Oct 2020

80.48268.559

Nov 2020

80.86669.085

Dec 2020

85.06678.181

Jan 2021

91.36488.801

Feb 2021

97.221100.421

Mar 2021

106.070109.253
Producer Price Index for automotive fuels and lubricants retailing
MonthIndex

Jan 2020

100.000

Feb 2020

102.652

Mar 2020

127.281

Apr 2020

169.753

May 2020

154.292

Jun 2020

135.506

Jul 2020

128.449

Aug 2020

124.180

Sep 2020

127.506

Oct 2020

129.438

Nov 2020

127.416

Dec 2020

118.292

Jan 2021

121.798

Feb 2021

118.292

Mar 2021

116.629
Consumer Price Index, 1-month percent change, seasonally adjusted
MonthAll itemsAll items less energy

Jan 2020

0.20.2

Feb 2020

0.10.2

Mar 2020

-0.30.0

Apr 2020

-0.7-0.1

May 2020

-0.10.0

Jun 2020

0.50.3

Jul 2020

0.50.4

Aug 2020

0.40.3

Sep 2020

0.20.2

Oct 2020

0.10.1

Nov 2020

0.20.1

Dec 2020

0.20.1

Jan 2021

0.30.0

Feb 2021

0.40.1

Mar 2021

0.60.3
Producer and import price indexes for crude petroleum
MonthProducer Price Index for crude petroleumImport Price Index for crude petroleum

Jan 2020

100.000100.000

Feb 2020

85.69689.067

Mar 2020

56.58558.776

Apr 2020

28.98637.212

May 2020

39.38244.333

Jun 2020

59.42058.977

Jul 2020

63.01271.615

Aug 2020

65.78473.621

Sep 2020

63.70569.509

Oct 2020

64.77669.408

Nov 2020

67.29772.116

Dec 2020

79.89979.840

Jan 2021

89.47787.563

Feb 2021

97.16498.897

Mar 2021

107.876105.617

Ensuring Security and Fairness in the Release of Economic Statistics

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is the gold standard of accurate, objective, relevant, timely, and accessible statistical data, and I am committed to keeping it that way. As Commissioner, it is my obligation to do everything possible to protect the integrity of our data and to make sure everyone has equitable access to these data.

One step toward equitable access and data security is coming soon; on March 1, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) will eliminate all electronics from the lock-up facility where we allow members of the media to review economic releases and prepare news stories before the official release of the data. We are changing the procedures to better protect our statistical information from premature disclosure and to ensure fairness in providing our information to the public.

For many years the news media have helped BLS and the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) inform the public about our data. Since the mid-1980s, BLS and ETA have provided prerelease data access to news organizations under strict embargoes, known as “lock-ups.” We have provided this early access consistent with federal Statistical Policy Directives of the Office of Management and Budget. BLS uses the lock-up for several major releases each month, including the Employment Situation and Consumer Price Index. ETA uses the lock-up for the Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims data. These economic data have significant commercial value and may affect the movement of commodity and financial markets upon release.

Because of technological advancements, the current lock-up procedure creates an unfair competitive advantage for lock-up participants who provide BLS data to trading companies. Today, the internet permits anyone in the world to obtain economic releases for themselves directly from the BLS or DOL websites. However, unlike media organizations with computer access in the current lock-up, others who use the data do not have up to 30 minutes before the official release to process the data. Their postings about the data may lag behind those released directly from the lock-up at official publication time, 8:30 a.m. Eastern. High-speed algorithmic trading technology now gives a notable competitive advantage to market participants who have even a few microseconds head start. To eliminate this advantage and further protect our data from inadvertent or purposeful prerelease, no computers or any other electronic devices will be allowed in the lock-up.

In recent years, BLS and ETA have devoted significant resources to introducing improved technologies that strengthen our infrastructure and ensure data are posted to the BLS or DOL websites immediately following the official release time.

We at BLS and ETA are committed to the principle of a level playing field—our data must be made available to all users at the same time. We are equally committed to protecting our data. We are now positioned to continue helping the media produce accurate stories about the data, while also ensuring that all parties, including the media, businesses, and the general public, will have equitable and timely access to our most sensitive data.

You can find more details about these changes in our notice to lock-up participants. We also have a set of questions and answers about the changes to the lock-up procedures.

What Happened to Natural Gas Prices at the End of 2018?

Natural gas prices mirrored a rollercoaster during the last few months — lots of ups and downs. Let’s explore why. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes many indexes that measure changes in prices for natural gas. Producer Price Indexes and Import Price Indexes tell us about these and other price movements faced by U.S. businesses. Natural gas is critical to the U.S. economy, and changes in natural gas prices can have a large impact on our daily lives. You may use natural gas for cooking or heating your home, but did you know these facts about natural gas?

  • Natural gas has surpassed coal as the largest source of electricity generation in the United States.
  • The United States has become the world’s largest natural gas producer and consumer.
  • Natural gas consumption in the United States reached historic highs in 2018.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas production reached record levels in 2018, driven by improved drilling techniques (such as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”), more wells, and increased crude oil production. Natural gas can be produced either through direct extraction or as a byproduct of crude oil drilling. With more production, we might expect prices to fall because more natural gas is available on the market. Natural gas prices increased sharply in the fourth quarter of 2018, however.

Let’s look at that rollercoaster of natural gas prices. In the early part of 2018, normal seasonal fluctuations and increased production pushed natural gas prices down. However, higher U.S. demand limited the decline in prices. Prices leveled off somewhat during the spring and summer months. Over the final 3 months of 2018, U.S. import prices for natural gas increased by 138.8 percent, the largest quarterly increase since the index began in 1982. Likewise, producer prices for natural gas increased by 90.2 percent over the same period.

U.S. import and domestic producer price indexes for natural gas, December 2017 to January 2019

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

There were many reasons prices rose sharply in the last 3 months of 2018. The industrial and electric power sectors are the biggest users of natural gas. The record-high natural gas consumption in the United States in 2018 was driven by record-high demand from the electric power sector. Despite record production in 2018, natural gas storage stocks hit a 16-year low by the end of the year. More domestic consumption and increased exports cut into the natural gas inventory. That pushed prices up starting in October, but there were other reasons prices rose.

An explosion of a major Canadian natural gas pipeline disrupted supply in mid-October. This explosion sharply limited U.S. imports of natural gas from Western Canada and reduced natural gas supply in the Northwest United States. Natural gas distributors asked customers to restrain usage, but import prices still rose. In November, imports from the pipeline grew to about half the amount before the explosion. Even though the natural gas supply from the pipeline moved toward full capacity in December, the demand for natural gas kept upward pressure on prices.

California also experienced natural gas pipeline capacity and storage issues later in the year. Those issues pushed prices up for the entire West Coast region during the fourth quarter of 2018.

Domestically, the increased demand for natural gas over the year resulted in the fourth lowest volume added into working stocks during the refill season since 2005. The refill season, typically April through October, is when natural gas supply typically outpaces demand, allowing working stocks to grow for the upcoming winter season. By November’s end, working gas stocks in the lower 48 states were below 3 trillion cubic feet for the first time since 2002 because of the depletion over the year. This lower supply, coupled with reduced imports, pushed domestic prices up as demand grew from electricity generation and heating needs from severe cold weather in most regions of the country.

Prices then fell in January 2019. Import prices for natural gas decreased by 44.2 percent in January, and producer prices fell 32.2 percent. Imported natural gas from Western Canada returned to more normal levels in the first half of January. As a result, natural gas supply caught up to demand, pushing prices lower. In addition, warmer-than-average temperatures during the beginning of January limited demand for natural gas, also placing downward pressure on prices.

Want to learn more?

U.S. import and domestic producer price indexes for natural gas
Month Domestic producer prices U.S. import prices
Dec 2017 100.0 100.0
Jan 2018 96.5 113.4
Feb 2018 107.5 95.8
Mar 2018 80.6 85.8
Apr 2018 82.3 84.2
May 2018 85.8 63.4
Jun 2018 88.3 60.0
Jul 2018 90.3 72.9
Aug 2018 89.1 69.3
Sep 2018 89.9 68.1
Oct 2018 90.5 80.3
Nov 2018 104.0 128.6
Dec 2018 171.0 162.7
Jan 2019 115.9 90.7

New Measures of Prices for Global Trade

Shipping containers sitting on a dock at a port.How do prices for U.S. manufacturing exports compare to prices for goods manufactured abroad? How has the balance of export and import prices between the United States and Mexico changed over time? BLS has new measures to answer these and other questions on the competitiveness of U.S. production. We have published data on import and export price indexes since 1973. Since then we have made many improvements to the data we provide. Our latest improvements are the locality of destination export price indexes and the U.S. terms of trade indexes.

What are the locality of destination indexes?

Each locality of destination index measures price changes in dollars for U.S. goods exported to another country, region, or group of countries. These include major U.S. trade partners like China and the European Union. The indexes are available for all goods and for manufacturing and nonmanufacturing goods industries for some localities. The locality of destination indexes are a counterpart to the locality of origin import price indexes, which we have published since 1990. The locality of origin indexes let us examine price trends for goods imported from other countries, regions, and groups of countries.

What do the locality of destination indexes tell us?

The locality of destination indexes show how export price movements can vary depending on where U.S. goods are sold. For instance, from August to September 2018, prices for manufacturing exports to Latin America increased 0.3 percent. During the same period, manufacturing export prices to the European Union did not change. Comparing the two price movements, we can conclude market prices for U.S. exports arriving in Latin America increased relative to exports bound for Europe. Identifying these trends allows data users to dig deeper to see how currency exchange rates or shifts in global supply and demand affect price movements across trade partners.

What are the terms of trade indexes?

Each terms of trade index measures the purchasing power of U.S. exports, in terms of imports, for a specific country, region, or group of countries. In other words, the terms of trade index for China provides information on the price for exports to China, and how those export prices compare to prices for imports coming from China. Prices for exports and imports are measured in U.S. dollars, so exchange rates are already taken into account. We calculate the terms of trade index for China by dividing the China export index by the China import index, then multiplying by 100. An increase in the China terms of trade index means prices for exports to China are rising faster than prices for imports from China.

What does a terms of trade index price change mean?

A change in a terms of trade index provides information on the competitiveness of U.S. goods in the global market. Take the previous example, an increase in the China terms of trade index. U.S. producers are receiving higher prices for exported goods, meaning U.S. companies can now afford to purchase more imports. The U.S. terms of trade—or competitiveness—with China have improved. When looking at the trends, remember that the types of goods U.S. businesses export to and import from China are different, and underlying price changes may have different causes.

How broad is the coverage of the terms of trade indexes?

We have terms of trade indexes for each country, region, or group of countries where we publish both a locality of destination export index and a locality of origin import index. These countries include major trading partners:

  • Canada
  • Mexico
  • Germany
  • China
  • Japan

They also include regions or groups of countries:

  • Industrialized Countries (Western Europe, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa)
  • European Union
  • Latin America (Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean)
  • Pacific Rim (China, Japan, Australia, Brunei, Indonesia, Macao, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, and the Asian Newly Industrialized Countries)

We publish the terms of trade indexes and the locality of destination indexes monthly. Data are available beginning with December 2017.

Why did we develop these new indexes?

The locality of destination and terms of trade indexes come from an ongoing effort to better measure the competitiveness of U.S. goods. We began expanding our measures of competitiveness in 2010 by extending the locality of origin import indexes to more detailed industries. Next we began work on the locality of destination and terms of trade indexes, eventually introducing them in September 2018.

Want to learn more?

Why This Counts: What are the U.S. Import and Export Price Indexes?

Cargo ship in port at nightThe U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provides data of all kinds for workers, jobseekers, students, employers, investors, and policymakers. Most BLS measures provide information on U.S. labor markets and living conditions: the national labor force participation rate; the unemployment rate in Illinois; the Consumer Price Index for Anchorage, Alaska. But did you know we also provide international data? With a focus on global trade, we publish the U.S. import and export price indexes.

What are import and export prices indexes?

Import and export price indexes describe changes in the prices for goods and some services exchanged between people and businesses in the United States and trading partners around the world. BLS collects prices of imported and exported products from businesses and calculates price trends monthly.

A brief history of international prices:

  • BLS published the first import and export price indexes in 1973.
  • We published the first all-goods price indexes for imports in 1983 and for exports in 1984.
  • Monthly publication launched in 1989 and expanded in 1994.
  • Import price indexes by country of origin began publication in 1992.

What is an import? An export?

To measure import and export prices, we first need to define “import” and “export.” An import is any product entering the United States from a foreign country; an export goes the opposite direction. A good becomes an import or export when it crosses the border. An imported service is bought by a U.S. resident from a foreign resident, while an exported service is sold by a U.S. resident to a foreign resident.

What is a price index?

A price index measures the average change in prices for a basket of the same products over time. We measure price changes for thousands of imports and exports each month. We publish these price changes for specific products and for the specific industries and U.S trading partners that import or export the products. To learn more about price indexes, see our blog about the Producer Price Indexes.

How do we collect the data?

Like the Consumer Price Index and Producer Price Indexes, the import and export price indexes depend on the cooperation of businesses—in this case, U.S. establishments importing and exporting goods and services. Thousands of public-minded businesses voluntarily provide data through a monthly survey. With all the data we collect, we strive to minimize the burden on our respondents and protect their confidentiality and privacy.

What do import and export prices measure?

If you’ve ever taken an introductory economics course, you know markets determine price changes through supply and demand. On the most basic level, import and export price indexes measure how supply and demand affect prices for goods and services traded internationally. Let’s look at a quick example, the export price index for computers. A U.S. computer manufacturer may look at current trends to figure out short-term sales strategies. Then consider the flip side—the price index for import computers. A U.S. resident shopping for a new computer may want to research whether prices have risen or fallen over the past few months. Or that computer shopper might look at the data from the past few years to see if there is a certain time of year that prices fall. But the importance of import and export prices extends even further than individuals and companies.

  • The indexes are used to account for inflation in other official U.S. statistics like trade balances published by the Census Bureau and the international accounts for U.S. Gross Domestic Product published by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
  • When economists calculate measures of U.S. industries’ competitiveness compared with our trading partners, they use import and export price indexes.
  • A change in the import price index can tilt domestic inflation in the same direction.
  • When exchange rates between currencies rise and fall, the indexes can show how much of that change is “passed-though” to an import or export price.

Why do import and export price indexes data matter?

The data matter because U.S. consumers depend on imports! Simply put, many of the products sold to consumers in the United States are imported from abroad. And there is a good chance what you buy for your home depends on import prices. But consumers aren’t the only ones who care about these prices. U.S. producers sell abroad and buy from overseas. Producers care about import prices because many imports to the United States go into the goods and services produced domestically. U.S. auto manufacturers care about the prices of auto parts they import from abroad. Producers who export goods to foreign countries benefit from having access to price information. Knowing trends in export agricultural prices, for example, could influence what crops a U.S. grower chooses to produce.

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