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US trade deficit narrows as exports hit two-year high

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[WASHINGTON] The US trade deficit fell in May as exports increased to their highest level in just over two years, but trade could still weigh on economic growth in the second quarter.

The Commerce Department said on Thursday the trade gap decreased 2.3 per cent to US$46.5 billion. April's trade deficit was unrevised at US$47.6 billion. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the trade gap falling to US$46.2 billion in May.

When adjusted for inflation, the trade deficit narrowed to US$62.8 billion from US$63.8 billion in April. Real goods exports surged to an all-time high in May, propelled by record high petroleum exports.

Still, the real trade deficit averaged US$63.3 billion in April and May, above the first quarter's average of US$62.2 billion. That suggests trade will be a drag on gross domestic product in the second quarter after contributing 0.23 percentage point to the economy's 1.4 per cent annualised growth pace in the first three months of the year.

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The Atlanta Federal Reserve is forecasting GDP rising at a three per cent rate in the second quarter.

In May, exports of goods and services rose 0.4 per cent to US$192 billion, the highest level since April 2015, lifted by a surge in exports of consumer goods such as cell phones and other household goods.

There were also increases in exports of motor vehicles and parts. Food exports, however, fell by US$700 million amid a US$600 million drop in soybean shipments. Exports to China increased 3.6 per cent. The value of goods shipped to Mexico and Canada rose 5.4 per cent and 9.6 per cent, respectively.

Exports to Germany gained 7.4 per cent.

Imports of goods and services dipped 0.1 per cent to US$238.5 billion in May. Cell phone and other household goods imports fell US$900 million, accounting for the bulk of the US$1.5 billion decrease in consumer goods imports.

There were also declines in imports of motor vehicles and parts. However, imports of capital goods increase US$1.3 billion.

The country imported 265 million barrels of oil in May, the most since August 2012. Imports of goods from China increased 11.6 per cent. The politically sensitive US-China trade deficit increased 14.4 per cent to US$31.6 billion in May.

The trade gap with Mexico surged 15.8 per cent to US$7.3 billion, the highest since October 2007.