WASHINGTON - The U.S. trade deficit fell in November to its lowest level in four years, an encouraging sign for economic growth. Gains in energy production and stronger sales of American-made airplanes, autos and machinery lifted exports to an all-time high.
The trade gap dropped 12.9 percent in
November to $34.3 billion, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. That's the
smallest monthly trade deficit since October 2009
Exports rose 0.9 percent to a record
$194.9 billion, aided by a 5.6 percent rise in petroleum exports. Imports
dropped 1.4 percent to $229.1 billion. A decrease in demand for foreign oil
offset a record level of imported autos.
Through 11 months of 2013, the trade
deficit is 12.3 percent lower than the same period in 2012. Exports have
strengthened while imports are slightly lower.
A smaller trade deficit can boost
economic growth. It typically shows that U.S. companies are earning more from
sales overseas while U.S. consumers are buying fewer products from foreign
A domestic energy boom has boosted
exports and lessened America's dependence on foreign oil. U.S. petroleum
exports were up 10.8 percent through the first 11 months of 2013 compared with
the same period in 2012. At the same time, petroleum imports are down 11.5
percent in that stretch.
The drop in oil imports has been
helped by lower global prices. After peaking at $102 per barrel in September,
the average price of a barrel of imported crude oil has been falling. It
averaged $94.69 a barrel in November. Analysts are predicting the price of
imported oil will decline further, noting ample supplies and a strengthening
The U.S. deficit with China fell 6.7
percent in November from October to $26.9 billion. U.S. exports to China hit a
record. The U.S. deficit with China, the largest with any country, is still on
track to set another record this year.
The deficit with the European Union
dropped 29.4 percent in November to $10.1 billion. That reflected a big drop in
imports from that region, which offset a small dip in U.S. sales to Europe.
The overall economy grew at an annual
rate of 4.1 percent in the July-September quarter. Much of that strength
reflected a buildup in business stockpiles. Economists believe inventory
building slowed in the October-December quarter, which could dampen growth.
Still, other data have been
encouraging. The rise in exports has lifted factory output. And a stronger job
market has made Americans more confident in the economy and led to more
spending. Those factors could offset some of the drag from lower inventory
Many analysts are forecasting economic
growth in the fourth quarter at an annual rate of around 2.5 percent. And they
expect growth will accelerate in 2014, helped by further gains in exports, more
job growth and less drag from the federal government.