U.S. Trade Deficit Shrank Unexpectedly In November

The U.S. trade deficit narrowed unexpectedly in November to its lowest level since July 2005, as a weak dollar and strong economic growth abroad helped push exports to a record, a Commerce Department report showed.

The trade gap shrank 1% to $58.2 billion, surprising analysts surveyed before the report who had made a median forecast of $59.9 billion. A drop in oil prices and oil imports
also trimmed the monthly trade shortfall.

Despite the slight narrowing, the trade gap through the end of November totaled $701.6 billion, keeping it on track to set a new annual record for 2006.

The closely watched trade deficit with China totaled $213.5 billion through November, shattering the 2005 annual record of $201.6 billion and keeping it on pace to finish 2006 in the
range of $230 to $240 billion.

U.S. exports of goods and services grew nearly 1% in November to a record $124.8 billion. Goods and services exports also set records in their individual categories, as did capital goods and consumer goods.

The strong export performance and narrower trade gap could prompt analysts to raise their estimates of fourth-quarter 2006 U.S. economic growth.

The average price for imported oil fell for the third consecutive month in November to $52.25 -- the lowest level since January 2006 -- as mild U.S. temperatures helped trim demand. Total petroleum imports at $21.5 billion in November were the lowest since July 2005, the Commerce Department said.

U.S. imports of consumer products ahead of the Christmas holiday hit a record.

Imports from China slipped 5.2% in November to $27.8 billion, but still totaled $236.6 billion for the first 11 months of the year. The monthly trade gap with China narrowed nearly 6% to $22.9 billion.