Reporting from Washington — The U.S. trade deficit narrowed for a fourth straight month in November, government data showed Thursday, confounding economists who had expected an increase.
The nation's trade deficit contracted 0.3% to $38.3 billion from a revised $38.4 billion in October, the Commerce Department said, making it the smallest trade gap since January 2010.
Analysts surveyed by MarketWatch had expected the deficit to widen to $40.3 billion.
The trade deficit shrank 13.9% in October.
The last time the deficit shrank four months in a row was in late 2008 and early 2009.
Both exports and imports rose in November, but exports expanded at a slightly faster pace.
U.S. exports are rising because of faster growth in emerging markets and the decline in the dollar's value in foreign-exchange trading late last summer, economists said.
The improvement in the trade sector could lead economists to revise upward their forecasts for fourth-quarter growth in gross domestic product. Before the trade data was released, forecasts for GDP growth in the final three months of the year had hovered at just above a 3% annual rate.
In November exports rose 0.8% to $159.6 billion — the highest level since August 2008, just before the collapse of Lehman Bros. helped send the global economy reeling. Imports rose 0.6% to $198.0 billion.
Despite the slight overall improvement in the trade gap, the U.S. deficit with China widened to $25.63 billion in November. This compared with $20.17 billion in the same month last year and $25.52 billion in October.
One positive note was that the U.S. exported a record $9.5 billion of goods to China in November.
For the first 11 months of the year, the U.S. recorded a $252.38-billion trade deficit with China, up from $208.73 billion in the same period in 2009.
Chinese President Hu Jintao will visit Washington next week for a formal state visit.
Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner on Wednesday offered a carrot to Beijing, saying that the U.S. would consider allowing China to buy more high-tech U.S. goods if China took steps to create a level playing field for U.S. exports.
Geithner also repeated that China should let its currency, the yuan, strengthen at a faster pace.
Robb writes for MarketWatch.com/McClatchy.