As exports climbed, the U.S. trade deficit unexpectedly narrowed in November. The Commerce Department said the trade deficit fell to $38.3 billion in November. The October deficit was revised lower, to $38.4 billion, from an initial estimate of $38.7 billion.
The decline in the November gap surprised most analysts, who had forecast a rise to $41 billion. "The trade deficit is narrowing because exports are growing as imports hold steady," said Christopher Cornell at Moody's Analytics. "However, this trend is unlikely to persist. A strengthening U.S. recovery will eventually drive up import demand, reversing the current trend."
Both exports and imports of goods and services increased slightly, according to the seasonally adjusted data.
Exports rose for the third consecutive month, by 0.8% to $159.6 billion, after a 3% increase in October.
The rise in imports was a weaker 0.6%, to $198 billion, following a decline in October.
The trade deficit hit a 2010 monthly peak above $50 billion in June, but since then has trended downward, thanks to slowing imports, particularly oil, and solid demand for U.S. goods, especially in emerging-market economies.
President Barack Obama has set a target of doubling U.S. exports by 2015 to support the economy's struggle to recover from severe recession.
Over the first 11 months of 2010, the United States has been on track toward that goal, with exports rising a solid 16.8% from the same period in 2009. At $159.6 billion in November, exports were some 4% below their record level in July 2008. Imports remain nearly 15% below their levels in that summer.
The Commerce Department said the surplus in services, a strong point in U.S. foreign trade, rose to a record $12.9 billion.
Farm exports and exports to China set new records.
High oil prices weighed on November's trade balance. The U.S. imported in November a relatively low volume of petroleum products, but the surge in prices pushed the petroleum products deficit up to $20.1 billion.
By country, the U.S. trade gap with Canada, its largest trading partner, widened 48% to $1.75 billion.
The deficit with China, the second-largest trading partner, grew 0.5% to $25.6 billion. The yawning China gap appeared set to top its 2008 record. It was $252.4 billion over the first 11 months of 2010, compared with $268.0 for all of 2008.
With the eurozone, the U.S. deficit narrowed less than 1% to $5.5 billion.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011