(A.P.) The U.S. trade deficit rose during March for the first time since last July as the global recession cut sharply into sales of American exports.
The Commerce Department reported that the deficit widened to $27.6 billion during the month, slightly lower than the $29 billion gap that economists had forecast.
The March deficit was 5.5 percent higher than February’s revised $26.1 billion trade gap, which had been the smallest since November 1999.
Through the first three months of this year, the deficit is running at an annual rate of $359.7 billion, far below last year’s $681.1 billion. Economists expect the deficit will remain at low levels this year as a recession in the U.S. crimps demand for foreign goods.
The global downturn also has cut into sales of U.S. exports. That will limit the amount of improvement seen in the deficit, which is the difference between what America imports and what it sells abroad. The slump in exports has been a blow to U.S. manufacturing giants such as Boeing Co. and Caterpillar Inc. who derive a large part of their sales from foreign markets.
For March, exports of goods and services fell 2.4 percent to $123.6 billion, the lowest level since August 2006. Sales of farm products dropped $2.4 billion, while exports of capital goods slid $1.7 billion, led by big declines in sales of civilian aircraft, telecommunications equipment, semiconductors, and domestic autos and auto parts.
Imports declined 1 percent to $151.2 billion, the lowest level since September 2004. Imports of capital goods dropped $516 million, led by declines in industrial machinery. The overall import level fell even though imports of oil rose 6.2 percent to $17.2 billion, the highest level since January.