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U.S. trade deficit widens in March

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Loading containers on a merchant ship in the port of Cartagena, Colombia

An early look at U.S. trade patterns in March shows a 1.4% widening in the nation’s trade deficit.

The trade gap in goods—services are excluded—widened to $64.8 billion in March from $63.9 billion in February, the government said Thursday in its advanced report. This widening of the deficit only partially reversed a sharp narrowing in February. The goods deficit totaled $68.6 billion in January.

The U.S. trade deficit often gyrates in the first quarter depending on the date of the Chinese lunar new year, a long but annually shifting holiday during which most of the country’s business shuts down. The U.S. has a bigger trade deficit with China than any other country, by far. The full trade report, which includes services, will be released next week.

Wholesale inventories, meanwhile, slipped 0.1% in March and retail inventories rose 0.4%, according to advanced data. The government issues the advanced data to make it easier to estimate gross domestic product.

The widening in the trade deficit may subtract a bit from gross domestic product in the first quarter. The government will release that report on Friday. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch suspect that the economy decelerated to a 1% annual growth rate in the first quarter from a 2.1% rate in the prior three-month period.

The size of the trade deficit is mostly tied to changes in exports and imports of goods. Trade patterns involving services such as financial advice or help-desk support rarely change much from month to month.

The government reported last month that the total U.S. trade deficit in February narrowed to $43.6 billion from $48.2 billion.



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