The trade deficit in the U.S. probably narrowed in November as fuel imports dropped and exports rebounded, economists said before a report this week.
The gap shrank to $41.2 billion from October’s $42.2 billion, according to the median forecast of 51 economists surveyed by Bloomberg before Friday's figures from the Commerce Department. Another report the same day may show import prices were little changed in December.
Sustained job gains and the drop in oil prices that is helping to reduce the import bill are boosting the buying power of U.S. households, giving the world’s largest economy a lift. In addition, stabilization in global growth, led by a pickup in China, will probably keep propelling sales overseas for American companies such as Ford Motor Co.
“The export side of it just sort of swamps the import side this month,” said Tom Porcelli, chief U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets LLC in New York. “Exports have been a sector of significant strength in the U.S.”
“That’s a story that could remain in place in 2013” given the recent rebound in global manufacturing, Porcelli added.
Manufacturing in China unexpectedly expanded in December at the fastest pace in 19 months, boosting optimism that a recovery in the world’s second-biggest economy is gaining traction, a Dec. 31 report showed. The country’s economy may have rebounded after a seven-quarter slowdown as the government increased spending on infrastructure and accelerated investment-project approvals.
American manufacturers are selling more overseas as a result. The Tempe, Arizona-based Institute for Supply Management said its factory export gauge rose in December to a seven-month high. Commerce Department data show exports slumped in October by the most in almost four years.
Ford is among manufacturers anticipating a pickup in global demand to compliment higher U.S. sales that have seen a boost as consumers replace lost or wrecked vehicles after Sandy. Ford, General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC posted December vehicle sales gains that exceeded analysts’ estimates, industry reports showed last week. Auto purchases ran at a 15.3 million annual rate after 15.5 million in November, the best two months since early 2008.
“We expect global sales to grow this year supported by an ongoing recovery in the U.S. as well as improving sales in China,” Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, chief economist at Ford Motor Co., said on a Jan. 3 conference call. “Gains in these markets are offset somewhat by the weakness in the European markets.”
An improving job market is probably one reason U.S. auto sales are improving. Payrolls rose by 155,000 workers last month following a 161,000 advance in November, Labor Department figures showed last week. The unemployment rate held at 7.8 percent, matching the lowest since December 2008.
The November trade data may have also been influenced by port disruptions. Superstorm Sandy made landfall Oct. 29, causing billions of dollars in damage along the East Coast and delaying freight traffic in the region. In addition, clerical workers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the largest U.S. port complex, went on strike Nov. 27 for eight days, affecting about $1 billion of trade a day.
Lower fuel prices probably held back the value of imports. The cost of imported petroleum dropped 3.6 percent in November, according to figures from the Labor Department. The cost of all goods bought overseas fell 0.9 percent in the month.
A Friday report from the Labor Department will show the import-price index rose 0.1 percent in December, according to the Bloomberg survey median.
Other reports this week may show wholesale inventories rose in November, and the federal budget deficit shrank last month, according to economists surveyed.
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