The U.S. Commerce Department reported the United States had a trade gap that narrowed 1.6% from September. The trade gap totaled $43.5 billion, in line with a consensus estimate from analysts before the report. However, the Commerce Department revised its estimate of the September trade deficit to $44.2 billion from $43.1 billion.
U.S. imports and exports declined in October, in a possible sign of weakening demand in the United States and abroad.
Imports fell 1.0% to $222.6 billion, led by a $3.6 billion drop in industrial supplies and materials. The average price for imported oil fell for a fifth consecutive month to $98.84 per barrel, from its May peak of $108.70. Imports of capital goods and food, feeds and beverages increased to records in October. Imports from China rose to a record $37.8 billion and imports from Japan increased to $12.3 billion, the highest since April 2008.
U.S. exports fell 0.8 percent to $179.2 billion, led by a $1.3 billion drop in industrial supplies and materials. The biggest monthly decline in that category was for non-monetary gold, which tumbled 25 percent to $3.5 billion.
U.S. exports to China increased to $9.7 billion, the highest since December. The U.S. trade gap with China went unchanged in October at $28.1 billion, but remained on track to surpass the annual record of about $272 billion set in 2010.
Rising consumer demand in the United States could push imports higher, particularly as the holiday shopping season gets under way. Retailers reported that shoppers got off to a healthy start over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. And consumer confidence rose sharply last month.
The unemployment rate fell to 8.6% in November, its lowest level in two and a half years. Employers added a net total of 120,000 jobs. Still, half the drop in the rate resulted from a decline in the work force.
In October, Congress approved free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, after four years without any new trade deals. The administration says the three deals will boost U.S. exports by $13 billion a year.