The gap shrank 7.6 percent to $32.9 billion from a revised $35.7 billion in September, Commerce Department data showed. Exports were up 2.6 percent, reaching the highest level since November 2008. A plunge in demand for petroleum checked the gain in imports.
FedEx Corp. and United Parcel Service Inc. are among companies benefiting from growing sales as a 12 percent drop in the dollar since March and recovery from the worst global economic slump in the post-World War II era propel sales overseas. A manufacturing rebound from the U.S. to China may sustain the expansion into 2010 as companies strive to prevent inventories from evaporating.
The gap with China widened to $22.7 billion in October, the highest since November 2008. Even so, exports to that nation climbed to a record $6.9 billion.
Trade with countries in South and Central America swung to a $1.16 billion surplus in October, the best performance since October 1998. The U.S. showed a $789 million deficit in September.
Imports rose 0.4 percent in October to $169.8 billion. Purchases of foreign crude oil dropped to 8.35 million barrels a day on average, the fewest since January 2000.
The plunge in petroleum overshadowed gains in demand for computers, automobiles and semiconductors from overseas manufacturers.
After eliminating the influence of prices, which are the figures used to calculate gross domestic product, the trade gap narrowed to $38 billion in October. Compared with an average of $39.4 billion a month in the third quarter, the decrease signals trade may contribute to economic growth in the last three months of the year.