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US trade deficit climbs to US$42.3 billion in February, highest level in five months

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. trade deficit climbed to the highest level in five months in February as demand for American exports fell while imports increased slightly.

The deficit increased to US$42.3 billion, which was 7.7 percent above the January imbalance of US$39.3 billion, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

U.S. exports slipped 1.1 percent to US$190.4 billion as sales of commercial aircraft, computers and farm goods fell. Imports edged up 0.4 percent to US$232.7 billion, reflecting gains in imports of autos and clothing which offset a drop in crude oil that fell to the lowest level in more than three years.

A higher trade deficit acts as a drag on economic growth because it means U.S. companies are making less overseas than their foreign competitors are earning in U.S. sales.

The trade deficit is the difference between imports and exports. A higher trade deficit acts as a drag on economic growth because it means U.S. companies are making less overseas than their foreign competitors are earning in U.S. sales.

For the first two months of this year, the deficit is running 4.5 percent below the same period in 2013 when the deficit dropped to US$474.9 billion, 11.2 percent below the annual deficit in 2012.

Many economists expect the trade deficit will keep narrowing this year as exports, helped by an energy production boom in the United States, grow faster than imports. But analysts expect the improvement will be modest because they are also looking for imports to rise as a stronger U.S. economy and higher consumer spending attract more foreign goods.

A domestic energy boom has boosted exports and reduced America's dependence on foreign oil. U.S. petroleum exports rose to an all-time high of US$137.2 billion last year, up 11 percent from 2012. Energy imports fell 10.9 percent to US$369.4 billion as domestic production took the place of some imports.

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