WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The U.S. trade
deficit fell to its lowest level in four years in November as
exports hit a record high and weak oil prices held down the import
bill, the latest evidence of strengthening economic fundamentals.
Tuesday's report left economists anticipating a far stronger growth
pace for the fourth-quarter than previously expected, with some
predicting trade could contribute as much as a full percentage point
to output during the period.
"The report should dispel worries that fourth quarter growth will be
really weak," said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic
Advisors in Holland, Pennsylvania. "It may not be robust, but should
set us up for even better growth this year."
The trade gap fell 12.9 percent to $34.3 billion, the Commerce
Department said. That was the smallest deficit since October 2009
and was below economists' expectations for a $40 billion shortfall.
The deficit stood at $39.3 billion in October.
When adjusted for inflation, the gap narrowed to $44.6 billion in
November from $47.0 billion the prior month. This measure goes into
the calculation of gross domestic product.
With more of what Americans consume being produced at home and
exports rising, economists pushed up their fourth-quarter growth
estimates by as much as 1 percentage point to as high as a 3.3
percent annual rate.
The economy grew at a 4.1 percent rate in the third quarter, but
there had been fears that GDP growth could slow to a rate of not
more than 2.5 percent as businesses worked through an inventory glut
and a 16-day government shutdown in October reduced federal workers'
The trade data added to reports on employment, manufacturing and
consumer spending that have suggested the economy is positioned for
faster growth this year.
The outlook has been strengthened by a pick-up in domestic demand
and diminishing uncertainty over U.S. fiscal policy.
U.S. stocks rose on the data, after three days of losses. The dollar
gained against a basket of currencies, while U.S. Treasury debt
prices were little changed.
EXPORTS AT RECORD HIGH
In November, exports rose 0.9 percent to $194.9 billion. That was
the highest on record and marked a second straight month of gains.
There were increases in exports of industrial supplies, capital
goods and automobiles.
Exports to China also reached a record high in November, narrowing
the politically sensitive U.S. trade deficit with the world's
second-largest economy. Exports to China were up 8.7 percent in the
first 11 months of the year.
There were also increases in exports to Germany and Japan.
Overall imports fell 1.4 percent to $229.1 billion in November. Part
of the decline reflected a lower petroleum import bill, which was
the smallest since November 2010.
Crude prices fell over the month and there was also a decline in the
volume of oil imported as the United States ramps up domestic
production. The petroleum deficit was the smallest since May 2009.
"The shale revolution and increased energy efficiency have pushed
the U.S. a long ways towards energy independence," said Ted Wieseman,
an economist at Morgan Stanley in New York.
Imports of industrial supplies and materials were the lowest in
three years. But auto and capital goods imports hit a record high.
Strengthening consumer spending, however, should draw in more
imports, widening the deficit in the months ahead.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; editing by