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Trade Deficit in U.S. Little Changed as Imports, Exports Grow

March 7 (Bloomberg) -- The trade deficit in the U.S. was little changed in January as exports and imports grew, a sign economies throughout the globe are picking up.

The gap widened by 0.3 percent to $39.1 billion from $39 billion in the prior month that was larger than previously estimated, Commerce Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of 70 economists called for a $38.5 billion deficit. Exports and imports each increased 0.6 percent.

The figures showed global demand for American-made goods is likely to strengthen as markets overseas, including emerging nations such as China, improve. An increase in household spending, the biggest part of the economy, will help propel U.S. purchases of goods from other parts of the world.

“Import growth will increase as the economy expands,” Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James & Associates Inc. in St. Petersburg, Florida, said before the report. At the same time, “any widening in the trade deficit is going to be largely transitional. The trade deficit is likely to remain relatively contained this year.”

Bloomberg survey estimates ranged from a trade deficit of $36 billion to $42.1 billion. The Commerce Department initially reported a $38.7 billion shortfall for December.

More Hiring

Another report today showed payrolls rose by 175,000 in February, exceeding the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg that projected a 149,000 gain, according to figures from the Labor Department. The jobless rate unexpectedly rose to 6.7 percent from a more than five-year low of 6.6 percent in January as people entering the workforce were unable to find employment.

Exports increased to $192.5 billion in January, today’s trade report showed. The breakdown of the data was less encouraging as sales on non-monetary gold, which are often volatile, surged by $1.86 billion in the first month of the year. That made up for a drop in foreign demand for food, fuel oil and automobiles.

Imports climbed to $231.6 billion, the most since October, from $230.3 billion in the prior month. Purchases of foreign- made capital equipment such as telecommunications gear and industrial machines, rose to a record, pointing to a pickup in U.S. business investment.

The import figures also reflected a surge in demand for crude oil. The U.S. bought 256.5 million barrels in January, the most since July. That swamped a drop in price to $90.21 that was the lowest since February 2011.

Excluding petroleum, the trade shortfall narrowed to $19.8 billion from $23.5 billion.

Growth Headwind

After eliminating the influence of prices, which renders the numbers used to calculate gross domestic product, the trade deficit shrank to $48.5 billion from $49.2 billion in December. It was still higher than the fourth-quarter average of $47.5 billion, indication trade so far is a slight headwind for the world’s largest economy.

Overseas markets are cooling. China this month set a 7.5 percent target for economic growth in 2014, a pace that may make it more difficult to achieve the leadership’s goals of curbing credit risks and stemming the pollution choking the nation’s biggest cities.

Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy, expanded 0.7 percent in the fourth quarter from the prior three months, when it contracted, the national statistics agency said on Feb. 27.

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi signaled this week that deflation risks in the euro region are easing for now after new forecasts showed that inflation will approach their target by the end of 2016 as the economy revives.

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