The US trade deficit narrowed to US$64.2 billion in November thanks to cheaper oil and a recovery in aircraft exports, data showed yesterday.
But with last month's figures still to come, the US$661.8-billion deficit run up in the first 11 months of last year has already smashed the annual record set in 2004 of US$617.6 billion.
The latest figure was less than the revised record high monthly deficit of US$68.1 billion reached in October, the Commerce Department said, and was also less than Wall Street forecasts for a November trade gap of US$66.0 billion.
The US trade account benefited from falls in energy prices and in imports of consumer goods, after retailers had stocked up in October to get their stores full for the festive season rush.
But while down, the US trade deficit remains hefty enough to warrant concern from economists about how much longer the economy, and the US dollar, can sustain such a gaping shortfall in goods and services.
The drag of the deficit is likely to dent US growth in the fourth quarter, analysts believe.
"However, a much larger drag seemed possible after the October surge and a good portion of the rise will be offset by a gain in inventories in the quarter," Citigroup economist Steven Wieting said.
Wachovia global economist Jay Bryson said the deficit was bound to resume its upward march.
"Imports are almost twice as large as exports, so just to stabilize the deficit, exports have to grow twice as fast, which is not going to happen," he said.