The gap decreased 6.6 percent to $37.3 billion from a revised $39.9 billion in December as Americans imported the fewest barrels of crude oil in a decade, Commerce Department figures showed today in Washington. Exports decreased 0.3 percent, the first decline since April, on fewer shipments of commercial aircraft and autos.
Imports may rebound in coming months as oil prices climb, consumer spending improves and a growing economy prompts companies to replenish depleted inventories. By the same token, the recovery in global growth and a weaker dollar is projected to lift overseas sales at manufacturers including Cisco Systems Inc., signaling factories will keep leading the U.S. expansion.
Exports decreased by $500 million to $142.7 billion. Auto demand from abroad fell by $544 million, while shipments of commercial aircraft declined by $474 million.
Sales of American-made planes may have rebounded last month. Boeing Co. delivered 23 aircraft for overseas buyers in January, down from 38 the prior month, according to figures from the Chicago-based company. Foreign deliveries climbed to 28 in February.
American-made goods have become more attractive for overseas buyers following a decline in the dollar last year. It has fallen about 11 percent against a trade-weighted basket of currencies from the U.S.’s biggest trading partners from a five- year high reached on March 9, 2009.
Imports fell 1.7 percent to $180 billion from $183.1 billion in December. The U.S. imported 245 million barrels of crude oil in January, the fewest since February 1999. The decrease swamped an increase in oil prices.
Purchases of foreign-made automobiles and parts dropped by $1.48 billion, led by decreases in purchases of German and Japanese cars.
After eliminating the influence of prices, which are the numbers used to calculate gross domestic product, the trade deficit shrank to $41 billion from $43.8 billion. The January figure was in line with the fourth-quarter average, indicating trade so far is not influencing growth estimates.
The economy, emerging from the worst recession since the 1930s, expanded at a 5.9 percent annual pace in the fourth quarter, the most since 2003. Exports accounted for 2.32 percentage points of growth, the biggest contribution in 13 years.
The report showed the trade gap with China was little changed at $18.3 billion from $18.1 billion in the prior month.
China, the world’s biggest exporter, this week reported its trade surplus shrank to the lowest level in a year in February as exports surged 46 percent from a year earlier, while imports rose 45 percent. The nation has prevented any rise in the yuan against the dollar since July 2008 to aid exporters.