Updated March 28 at 4:28pm

Record exports boost U.S. growth as trade gap narrows


WASHINGTON - Exports from the U.S. climbed to a record in September, contributing to an unexpected decline in the trade deficit that gave the world’s largest economy a boost at the end of the third quarter.

The gap shrank 5.1 percent to $41.5 billion, the smallest since December 2010 and lower than any estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists, Commerce Department figures showed today in Washington. The gain in sales to overseas buyers was broad- based, with improvement in everything from soybeans to fuel and civilian aircraft.

Growing demand from emerging markets in South and Central America may be helping to overcome a slowdown in Europe and China that is hurting companies such as Emerson Electric Co. At the same time, U.S. consumers are spending more as the job market stabilizes, boosting the inflow of goods made abroad as retailers restock in advance of the year-end holidays.

“The outlook in emerging markets is stronger than in Europe, and that’s where we would expect to see export growth,” said Jeremy Lawson, senior U.S. economist at BNP Paribas in New York, who projected the gap would decline to $42 billion, matching the lowest among economists surveyed. “Consumer goods imports were strong. Some of that may be in preparation for holiday shopping. The picture is getting better there.”

The improvement in trade may boost third-quarter growth by 0.4 percentage point, according to economists at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in New York. Combined with prior data showing a pickup in construction and in inventories, the JPMorgan analysts now project the economy expanded at a 2.8 percent annual rate in July through September, up from an initial Commerce Department estimate of 2 percent.

Claims, confidence

Other reports showed fewer Americans filed claims for jobless benefits last week, and consumer sentiment climbed as more households said the economy was improving.

Stocks declined following yesterday’s drop as Apple Inc. slumped and amid growing concern about a delay in aid to Greece. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index fell 0.3 percent to 1,390.87 at 11:45 a.m. in New York.

Internationally, the Bank of England stopped expanding its bond-buying program, indicating officials may shift to stimulating bank lending to support the economy.

Applications for jobless insurance payments in the U.S. fell by 8,000 to 355,000 in the week ended Nov. 3, figures from the Labor Department showed today. A government spokesman said the data are starting to show mixed influence as a result of superstorm Sandy.

No electricity

One state said the loss of electricity due to the storm suppressed filings, while others said workers who lost their jobs as a result of the weather were starting to apply, the Labor Department analyst said. The analyst declined to identify the state, saying it was department policy not to name individual states.

It may take three to four weeks to see the full impact, the spokesman said, which indicates claims may jump back in coming weeks as more storm-related applications are processed. A Labor Department report last week showed the economy added more jobs than projected in October and the unemployment rate rose as hundreds of thousands of Americans joined the job search amid improving prospects.

“When you see bad weather, there’s usually a drop in claims, and then you typically see a rebound in the next few weeks,” said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James & Associates Inc. in St. Petersburg, Florida, who correctly forecast the number of filings. “Underneath the surface, job destruction has been trending very low. Layoffs aren’t the problem -- it’s the relatively weak pace of job creation.”

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