US trade deficit narrows slightly in March

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. trade deficit narrowed slightly in March as a decline in imports was tempered somewhat by a plunge in exports.

The trade deficit contracted 0.1% to $69.4 billion, the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis said on Thursday. Data for February was revised to show the trade gap widening to $69.5 billion instead of $68.9 billion as previously reported. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the deficit climbing to $69.1 billion in March.

Trade, through a surge in imports, was a large drag on gross domestic product in the first quarter. The economy grew at a 1.6% annualized rate last quarter after expanding at a 3.4% pace in the October-December period.

Imports dropped 1.6% in March to $327.0 billion. Goods imports fell 1.6% to $263.8 billion. There were decreases in imports of motor vehicles and parts as well as industrial supplies and materials, which include crude oil.

But imports of consumer goods increased $3.0 billion, boosted by pharmaceutical preparations. Capital goods imports were the highest on record. Services imports fell $1.1 billion to $63.2 billion, pulled down by transport and travel.

Exports tumbled 2.0% to $257.6 billion. Goods exports plummeted 2.9% to $171.3 billion. There were decreases in exports of capital goods, industrial supplies and materials, and foods, feeds and beverages. Exports of services fell $0.2 billion to $86.4 billion.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)