The trade deficit likely widened in September, after unexpectedly dipping in August as exports edged up and imports fell on a big drop in demand for foreign oil.
The fourth straight rise in exports in August was an encouraging sign that the global economy had started to recover from the recession that began in the U.S. and spread worldwide. But many economists expect the deficit to rise on the back of a rebounding U.S. economy, which will start importing more products.
Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters expect the deficit rose to $31.65 billion, from $30.71 billion in August. The Commerce Department is scheduled to release the report Friday at 8:30 a.m. EST.
Exports of goods and services edged up 0.2 percent to $28.2 billion in August, the highest level since December. The strength came from American farm products including soybeans and wheat, and increases in sales of autos and related parts, industrial engines and telecommunications equipment.
The rise in exports also benefited from a weakening dollar, which is expected to remain under pressure in coming months, due partly to soaring U.S. budget deficits. A weaker dollar boosts exports by making U.S. products cheaper on foreign markets.
Through the first eight months of this year, the trade deficit is running at an annual rate of $357 billion, about half of last year's $695.9 billion imbalance. That huge decline reflects the recession that dampened demand for imports.
Oil prices rose in August, but the volume of shipments dropped sharply. The drop in oil imports offset a jump in foreign-made autos and parts. Economists believe the government's Cash for Clunkers' sales incentives for buyers to trade in their old cars for more fuel efficient vehicles helped drive the increase.
The overall economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, expanded at an annual rate of 3.5 percent, in the July-September period after a record four straight quarters of contraction.