U.S. March Trade Deficit Widens 16.1% To $31.2 Billion

By BridgeNews Record demand for foreign-made consumer products boosted the U.S. trade deficit 16.1% in March to $31.2 billion, the Commerce Dept. reported Friday. Imports rose 2.9% and exports fell 1.0% as the trade gap reversed its surprise narrowing of February. Private analysts had expected a $29.5 billion deficit for March. In February, the trade gap plunged 19.2% to a revised $26.9 billion as a falloff in demand for consumer goods dragged down imports. The March trade gap reflected a $37.6 billion shortfall in goods and a $6.5 billion surplus in services. Imports, which totaled $120.6 billion, were led by record purchases of consumer goods from abroad, such as toys and apparel. Consumer-goods imports jumped 12.1% to $25.3 billion in March. Capital goods and automobiles also underpinned imports, which had fallen 4.5% in the prior month. Meanwhile, exports fell 1.0% to $89.5 billion amid a drop in demand for capital goods, which offset increases in shipments of autos and industrial supplies. Civilian aircraft exports tumbled 11.2% to $2.45 billion. Excluding sales of civilian aircraft, goods exports were 1.2% below the prior month. Helping to contain the trade deficit was a 5.3% drop in oil imports to $9.1 billion, the lowest since January 2000. In March, imported crude averaged $22.76 per barrel, down $1.00 from February and the lowest since November 1999. But volume surged to an average of 9.4 million barrels per day from 9.0 million the prior month. The trade gap with OPEC member countries narrowed to $3.2 billion in March from February's $3.3 billion as U.S. exports to those nations grew at their fastest pace since December 1999. Excluding oil, overall U.S. imports rose 4.3% in March.

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