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US trade gap widens slightly in August

Container ships docked in the Port of Los Angeles on April 16, 2013
Container ships docked in the Port of Los Angeles on April 16, 2013

The US trade deficit widened slightly in August as exports fell from the previous month, according to Commerce Department data published Thursday that reflected a sluggish global economy.

The US trade gap with the rest of the world was $38.8 billion after a downwardly revised July reading of $38.6 billion.

Most analyst had forecast the trade gap would shrink to $38.6 billion from an initial July estimate of $39.1 billion.

"The report itself didn't show any economic momentum on the export or the import side of things," analysts said, noting the trade deficit has averaged roughly $39.0 billion each month since April.

In August, US imports were essentially unchanged from July, at $228.0 billion. An increase in imports of services, mainly in travel, was offset by a decrease in goods, mostly consumer goods.

Exports fell to $189.2 billion in August from $189.3 billion the prior month. The drop reflected a decrease in exports of goods, particularly industrial supplies and materials.

Bright spots in exports were autos, which increased to a record $13.1 billion in August from $12.5 billion the prior month, and consumer goods, up 2.2 percent to $15.6 billion.

The huge trade gap with China narrowed 0.6 percent to $29.9 billion as an increase in US exports to the world's second-largest economy offset a rise in imports.

The deficit with the eurozone shrank sharply, by almost 26 percent to $8.1 billion, led by a decline in imports from the single-currency bloc.

"The dog days of August were amply reflected in the trivial movements in the international trade report," said Michael Montgomery, US economist at IHS Global Insight.

The slight changes suggest that foreign trade will make little contribution to real gross domestic product growth as 2013 winds down, he said.

"Sales in the US are not growing fast enough to suck in imports; at the same time, foreign economies are not growing fast enough to absorb more US-made goods -- the net result is a very bland trade picture."