Trade deficit unexpectedly widens on drop in U.S. exports

The trade deficit unexpectedly widened in October as weaker foreign orders for U.S. goods and services outweighed a cooling in imports.

The gap increased 3.4 percent, to $43.9 billion, from a revised $42.5 billion in September that was larger than previously estimated, the Commerce Department reported Friday in Washington, D.C. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of 65 economists called for a deficit of $40.5 billion.

A strong dollar and weaker global growth caused exports to slump to the lowest level in three years, one reason why American manufacturers are struggling. The drive toward energy independence and lower fuel prices also drove down U.S. petroleum imports, which sank to the lowest level in more than a decade.

“Weak trade flows are not a good sign for global demand,” Daniel Silver, an economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in New York, said in a research note before the report.

Estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from trade gaps of $38.9 billion to $44.5 billion.

After eliminating the effects of price fluctuations, which generates the numbers used to calculate GDP, the trade deficit widened to $60.3 billion in October from $57.4 billion a month earlier.

Friday’s report ran counter to preliminary estimates issued last month that showed a narrowing in the trade gap on goods. The revised numbers will probably prompt economists to cut estimates for U.S. fourth-quarter growth.

Exports dropped 1.4 percent, to $184.1 billion in October, the weakest since October 2012, from $186.8 billion the prior month. They’ve receded from the record $197.8 billion reached in October 2014.

Imports decreased 0.6 percent, to $228 billion, from $229.2 billion in September. The value of petroleum purchases from abroad sank to $12 billion, the least since November 2003.

 The deficit with Mexico rose 10.2 percent, to $33 billion, the biggest deficit with Mexico in more than three years. The deficit with China fell 9.1 percent, to $33 billion, still the largest imbalance with any country.

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