Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The importance of imports (and exports)

You may think that enough has been written about the relationship between the housing bust and our current Great Recession to render the issue over and out, but your editor insists that the subject is of lasting interest. S/he assigns you to come up with a new angle on it, and this time, you'll need to back up your quotes and statements with some hard statistical data--that you have to dig up yourself!


You can do it. The main source for this type of information is the U.S. Commerce Department, which has a treasure trove of data on almost every conceivable economic issue. The problem is, its websites are often confounding even to the most savvy users. Still, you'll need to check it out.

The story angle you come up with is this: Given the housing bust cum recession, what's happening with imports of home products, like furniture? Most furniture, like so many other things these days, is imported. So,then, are imports of, say, upholstery, up or down? And by how much?

Go to the Commerce Department site that will lead you to the data.

Don't freak over the zillion items you see on the page. Just click on the following, in order:
1) Country/Product Trade Data.
2) NAICS web application.*
3) In the "Select 3-digit NAICS" search box, hit the down arrow and search for "furniture and fixtures." Click on that.
4) Then click "Go." (This is a must; lots of users forget this step.)
5) In the search box that says "Select 6-digit NAICS," click on the down arrow, and look for upholstered household furniture. Click on that.
6) Then click "Go."
7) In the date box, select the month and year you want, which as of this writing is June 2009. (The most current month is the default, so you may leave it as is.)
8) Along the first line, which says "World," look for "Consumption Imports." Under that, look for "Customs Value Basis."

Voila! Here's your data: It shows that the U.S., in June 2009, imported $14,624,000 worth of upholstery.

So what you do with that figure? Compare it with June 2008 (go back up and set the date to June 2008). Click "Go." And look: a year ago during the same month, we imported $223,894,000 worth of upholstery.

Now you have your story: thanks most likely to the recession and housing slump, imports of upholstery plummeted over the year! It makes sense: People who don't buy new houses don't need to furnish them. So importers cut back. All that's left for you to do is embroider your story with quotes and comments.
*NAICS, if you care, stands for North American Industry Classification System.

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