REFILE-WRAPUP 1-Imports widen U.S. trade deficit in February

(Refiles to correct date of China trade data release in
paragraph 12)

By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON, April 13 (BestGrowthStock) – A jump in imports of
consumer goods and other products widened the U.S. trade gap in
February to $39.7 billion, but the closely watched bilateral
deficit with China was its lowest in nearly a year, a
government report showed on Tuesday.

Stronger demand boosted U.S. imports 1.7 percent during the
month to $182.9 billion. Exports edged only 0.2 percent higher
to $143.2 billion, but that was still the best showing since
the depths of the global financial crisis in October 2008.

Analysts had expected the trade deficit to widen in
February to around $38.5 billion. The Commerce Department
lowered its estimate of January’s gap slightly to $37.0
billion.

Cary Leahey, an economist with Decision Economics in New
York, said the slightly bigger-than-expected deficit could
prompt analysts to ratchet back their estimates for first
quarter U.S. economic growth.

“People have been raising their first quarter GDP forecasts
toward 4.0 percent so this takes a little bit of a shine off
that. There is a pickup in the underlying economy, but the
trade report suggests that more of the benefit may have gone to
overseas production rather than domestic production,” he said.

The trade data had little impact on financial markets, with
the U.S. dollar largely unchanged and U.S. stock index futures
holding onto losses after the report. U.S. Treasury debt prices
also held onto slight gains.

U.S. imports of consumer goods such as pharmaceuticals,
electronics, toys and clothing and foreign services such as
travel were the highest since October 2008. Imports of
industrial supplies and materials were the highest since
November 2008.

Imports from China fell 7.2 percent in February to $23.4
billion, the lowest since May 2009, and the U.S. trade gap with
the Asian manufacturing giant narrowed to $16.5 billion, the
lowest since March 2009.

The slimmer deficit could give President Barack Obama
additional time to persuade China to raise the value of its
currency before U.S. lawmakers make good on a threat to pass
legislation threatening Beijing with additional U.S. tariffs.

Chinese President Hu Jintao, who is in Washington to attend
a nuclear security summit, told Obama on Monday that China
would not be pushed by external pressure to revalue the yuan
and be guided instead by its own domestic needs.

But Hu also pledged “China will firmly stick to a path of
reforming the yuan’s exchange rate mechanism,” according to the
official Chinese news agency Xinhua’s account of Obama and Hu’s
meeting.

China’s own monthly data on Saturday showed it ran a $7.24
billion trade deficit in March, the first time its balance had
been in the red since April 2004.

U.S. imports of crude oil in February were the lowest since
February 1999. The average price for imported oil fell nearly a
dollar to $72.92 per barrel from January, but was up 85.9
percent from February last year.

Meanwhile, a Labor Department showed strong petroleum
prices in March boosted overall import prices rose 0.7 percent
after falling a revised 0.2 percent in February.

The smaller-than-expected rise suggested the strengthening
U.s. dollar has subdued import cost pressures. But in the 12
months to March, import prices rose 11.4 percent.

March’s monthly rise reflected a 4.0 percent increase in
the price of imported petroleum and petroleum products after a
1.4 percent decline in February.

Excluding petroleum, import prices fell 0.2 percent
following a 0.2 percent gain in February.

Stock Market Today

(Additional reporting by Lucia Mutikani, Editing by Andrea
Ricci)

REFILE-WRAPUP 1-Imports widen U.S. trade deficit in February