U.S. Trade Gap Widened 5.8% in April



A container ship sitting in its berth at Long Beach, Calif., earlier this year ENLARGE
A container ship sitting in its berth at Long Beach, Calif., earlier this year Photo: mark ralston/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

WASHINGTON—The trade deficit widened in April as overall import and export levels remained muted, a reflection of slow global economic growth.

The trade gap increased 5.3% from March to a seasonally adjusted $37.44 billion, the Commerce Department said Friday. Exports of goods and services rose 1.5% while imports climbed 2.1%.

Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected a deficit of $41.5 billion in April. March’s trade deficit was revised to $35.54 billion from a previously estimated $40.44 billion. The updated figure for March was the lowest deficit since December 2013.

Friday’s report highlights weak global demand for goods and services during the opening months of the year. For the January to April period, U.S. exports and imports are both down just over 5% from the same time a year earlier.

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The trade deficit took a toll on U.S. economic growth during the first quarter. Trade subtracted an estimated 0.21 percentage point from gross domestic product during the period, the Commerce Department said in a separate report last week. Overall, GDP advanced at a scant 0.8% seasonally adjusted annual rate.

Data from April and the revised March figure could offer GDP a boost.

Reflecting low oil prices and domestic energy production that is still historically robust, the petroleum deficit was the lowest since February 1999 and the trade surplus with Canada—the top supplier of foreign oil to the U. S.—was the highest on record.

In April, imports of services were the highest on record.

Slow global growth has curbed demand for U.S.-made products, while the dollar’s rise in value against other currencies since mid-2014 has made exports more expensive for foreign buyers, imports cheaper in the U.S. and depressed earnings of American companies with significant overseas business.

The dollar’s value peaked in January and has since eased, offering some relief for U.S. firms. Compared to major trade partners, though, it remains relatively strong.

Jeffrey Sparshott at jeffrey.sparshott@wsj.com and Harriet Torry at harriet.torry@wsj.com


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