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U.S. trade deficit falls to lowest level in 4 years

The U.S. trade deficit fell in November to its lowest level in four years, a sign that economic growth in the final three months of the year was stronger than analysts had forecast.

Gains in energy production and stronger sales of American-made airplanes, autos and machinery lifted exports to an all-time high.

The trade gap dropped 12.9 percent in November to $34.3 billion, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. That's the lowest monthly trade deficit since October 2009.

Exports rose 0.9 percent to a record $194.9 billion. The gain was aided by a 5.6 percent rise in petroleum exports. Imports dropped 1.4 percent to $229.1 billion. A decrease in demand for foreign oil offset a record level of imported autos.

A smaller trade deficit can boost economic growth. It typically shows that American companies are earning more from sales overseas, while U.S. consumers are buying fewer products from foreign companies.

Several economists raised their growth forecasts for the October-December quarter after seeing the November trade report.

A domestic energy boom has boosted exports and lessened America's dependence on foreign oil. U.S. petroleum exports were up 10.8 percent through the first 11 months of 2013 compared with the same period in 2012. In that same period, petroleum imports have fallen 11.5 percent.

The U.S. deficit with China fell 6.7 percent in November from October to $26.9 billion. U.S. exports to China hit a record. The U.S. deficit with China, the largest with any country, is still on track to set another record this year. The deficit with the European Union dropped 29.4 percent to $10.1 billion, reflecting a drop in imports from that region.

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