Well known, widely accepted fact: the US needs to restructure its economy, increase investment, reduce domestic consumption, increase saving, export more, import less.
Other well known fact: in order to do this, it is dependent on growth in developing and other developed economies.
Areas like Latin America (and other commodity based developed economies) may be negatively impacted by a slowdown in Europe and China, meaning that the overall export dynamics are weakening.
But, personal consumption expenditures in the US have remained high:
PCE as a % of GDP needs to move lower in order for the US economy to properly rebalance: that it has not yet done so, may be due to fiscal support (including transfer payments), low interest rates and the decline in residential fixed investment.
In other words, we have some dilemmas:
No housing recovery on current economic dynamics without PCE rebalancing.
PCE rebalancing has been delayed by government support of PCE: if expected fiscal cliff occurs, expect PCE to contract.
No lasting recovery if consumers cut expenditure on PCE components and government reduces fiscal support and, likely, in this event, to be no robust housing recovery for some time.
US exports as a % of GDP have been slowly trending up. Net change in export growth (rolling 5 year change in exports as a % of change in GDP) however has been on a tear since 2003.
This time frame (2003 to 2010) also closely matches the boom times in developing economies, especially China, economies, and the associated surge world trade.
The improving trend appears to be turning with net exports detracting from GDP in all but two quarters since the 3rd quarter of 2009.
It is clear that the US (and others) economy has become more integrated with world trade: both imports and exports as a % of GDP have both expanded significantly, and one would suspect that its sensitivity to shocks impacting world trade has also increased. Global supply networks, which have impacted recorded trade volumes, may also serve to exacerbate short term demand shocks.
What is more important than the actual trade balance at the moment is to what extent is the deterioration in net exports possibly due to capital investment (imports of capital goods) in industry.
And of course the broader GDP component including non residential structures:
Well we have PCE, Exports and Imports up, residential investment down, and non residential fixed investment on a downward trend. So you do wonder just what is the benefit of all this extra import/export activity. We have already seen the impact of the 2008/2009 crisis on world trade as the increasingly complex global production and supply chains impacted economic activity.
BEA data for GDP components