Trade deficit in U.S. unexpectedly narrows on record exports

The U.S. trade deficit unexpectedly narrowed in September to the lowest level in almost two years as exports climbed to a record.

The gap shrank 5.1 percent to $41.5 billion, the smallest since December 2010 and lower than any estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists, from $43.8 billion in August, Commerce Department figures showed today in Washington. The increase in sales to overseas buyers was broad-based, with everything from soybeans to fuel and civilian aircraft showing gains.

Growing demand from emerging markets in South and Central America may be helping to overcome a slowdown in Europe and China that is hurting companies such as Emerson Electric Co. At the same time, imports also climbed as U.S consumers are beginning to spend more as the job market stabilizes.

“The outlook in emerging markets is stronger than in Europe, and that’s where we would expect to see export growth,” said Jeremy Lawson, senior U.S. economist at BNP Paribas in New York, who projected the gap would close to $42 billion, matching the lowest among economists surveyed. “Consumer goods imports were strong. Some of that may be in preparation for holiday shopping. The picture is getting better there.”

The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of 75 economists called for the deficit to expand to $45 billion. Estimates ranged from a gap of $42 billion to $47.6 billion. The Commerce Department revised the August deficit from an initially reported $44.2 billion.

Jobless Claims

Fewer Americans than forecast filed claims for unemployment insurance last week as the effects of Hurricane Sandy started to show up, a report from the Labor Department also showed today. Applications for jobless benefits fell by 8,000 to 355,000 in the week ended Nov. 3.

One state said the loss of electricity due to the storm suppressed filings, while others said workers who lost their jobs as a result of the weather were starting to apply, a Labor Department spokesman said as the data were released to the press.

Stock-index futures held earlier gains after the reports. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index maturing in December rose 0.3 percent to 1,392.7 at 9:05 a.m. in New York.

Exports climbed 3.1 percent in September, the biggest gain since July 2011, to $187 billion. Sales of foods and feeds increased by $1.14 billion, and demand for industrial supplies such as petroleum products and fuel oil rose by $3.45 billion.

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