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US trade deficit falls to lowest in 18 months

Associated Press Modified: August 9, 2012 at 8:45 am •  Published: August 9, 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. trade deficit fell to its lowest level in 18 months in June, pushed down by a steep drop in oil imports and a rise in exports.

The trade gap narrowed to $42.9 billion in June, down from $48 billion in May, the Commerce Department said Thursday.

Exports rose 0.9 percent to a record high of $185 billion. Overseas sales of autos, pharmaceuticals, and industrial machinery increased. Despite Europe's struggling economy, exports to the 27-nation European Union grew 1.7 percent.

Imports fell 1.5 percent to $227.9 billion, the lowest in four months. A key reason for the drop was the price of imported oil fell by the most in 3 ½ years. That brought the trade deficit in oil to its lowest level since November 2010 and accounted for half of the improvement in the overall trade gap.

Excluding oil, the trade deficit dropped to $20.4 billion in June from $23.2 billion in May. Imports of computer equipment and TVs also declined.

A narrower trade gap acts as less of a drag on growth because it means the United States is spending less on foreign-made products and is taking in more from sales of U.S.-made goods.

The sharp drop in the deficit could mean the economy actually grew at a faster pace in the April-June quarter than first estimated. The government said last month that the economy expanded at a 1.5 percent annual rate in the second quarter. It will issue its second of three growth estimates later this month.

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