* Trade deficit falls to $34.3 billion in November
* Economists bump up GDP estimates on report
* Exports rise 0.9 percent to record high
* Imports fall 1.4 percent, petroleum bill lowest in 3 years
By Lucia Mutikani
WASHINGTON, Jan 7 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
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
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' output.
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.
Petroleum exports hit an all-time high.
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
Strengthening consumer spending, however, should draw in
more imports, widening the deficit in the months ahead.