The U.S. trade deficit unexpectedly fell for a third straight month in November as exports of commercial airplanes and other products hit an all-time high and the bill for foreign oil declined to the lowest level in 16 months.
The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that the deficit fell by 1 percent to $58.2 billion in November, the lowest monthly total since July 2005. The deficit hasn't declined for three consecutive months since early 2003.
The November improvement came as a surprise. Analysts had forecast a slight increase from October's deficit of $58.8 billion.
The politically sensitive deficit with China declined in November after setting records for three straight months. Shipments of cell phones and clothing from China eased following a huge surge in previous months as retailers had stocked their shelves for holiday shoppers.
Even with the improvement, the imbalance with China for 2006 climbed to an all-time high of $213.5 billion, surpassing the 2005 12-month total of $202 billion, which had been the previous record deficit for a single country.
The overall deficit for 2006 is running at an annual rate of $765.4 billion, putting the country on track to see a record imbalance for the fifth consecutive year. The deficit for all of 2005 was $716.7 billion.