Through the first 11 months of 2012, the trade deficit is running at an annual rate of $546.6 billion. That's roughly 2.4 percent lower than the 2011 deficit.
Imports of consumer goods grew to a monthly record in November. Much of the growth was from cell phones and other household electronics products.
Oil imports dropped 2.5 percent, reflecting a fall in prices and lower volume.
Imports of foreign-made autos and auto parts rose, likely reflecting catch-up shipments following port disruptions in October caused by Superstorm Sandy.
The U.S. trade deficit with China, the largest with any country, totaled $29 billion in November. That's down slightly from the monthly record of $29.5 billion in October. But the trade gap with China is still on track to set a new annual record in 2012.
Trade was a modest positive for overall economic growth in 2012 and many economists believe that trend will continue in 2013. However, that forecast is based on a view that the European debt crisis stabilizes and growth in Asia begins to rebound.
In its latest outlook, a forecasting panel for the National Association for Business Economics predicted that the U.S. trade deficit for 2013 will total $533 billion, a slight improvement from the $540 billion deficit they expect when the trade numbers are totaled up for all of 2012. That expectation for a slight improvement is based on a view that export growth will outpace imports in 2013.