WASHINGTON The United States posted a budget surplus for the first time in 42 months in April on a rise in tax receipts and a drop in government spending, although it partly reflected a shifting of some payments to other months.
The government notched a larger-than-expected $59.12 billion surplus last month, compared with a $40.39 billion deficit in April 2011, the Treasury Department said on Thursday. The last time the government logged a surplus in any month was September 2008, when the worst of the financial crisis began to rock Wall Street.
Analysts surveyed by Reuters had forecast a $30 billion surplus for April, although the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said on Monday it expected a surplus of $58 billion.
While the one-month surplus does not signal a turnaround in U.S. indebtedness - the nation is still projected to run a fourth straight year of deficits topping $1 trillion - it could be taken as a modest reflection of a slowly improving economy.
However, the budget gap is so large, Congress and the administration cannot side-step the need for action if they are to put a significant dent in it, said Cooper Hawes, an analyst for Barclays Capital.
"While the report is encouraging, the deficit is still large by historical standards and will likely eventually require significant fiscal adjustments," Hawes said.
Treasury Department officials noted that the size of the surplus was amplified by calendar peculiarities that resulted in lower tax refunds or moved some benefit payments into March.
Even so, the cumulative budget deficit for the first seven months of the fiscal year totaled $719.86 billion, compared with a shortfall of $869.81 billion over the same period in fiscal year 2011.
The government typically runs a budget surplus in April, when most Americans pay their income taxes. The government has been in the black in 44 of 58 Aprils since records have been kept.
(Editing by James Dalgleish)