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WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. trade deficit likely narrowed slightly in June, mostly because cheaper oil lowered the value of imports.
Economists forecast that the trade deficit declined to $47.8 billion from $48.7 billion in May, according to a survey by FactSet. The Commerce Department will release the report at 8:30 a.m. Eastern on Thursday.
Oil prices fell below $80 a barrel in June as global economic growth weakened. They have since risen past $93 a barrel.
Cheaper oil helped the trade gap fall in May for the second straight month. Exports to Europe and China also rose.
A narrower trade gap acts as less of a drag on growth because it means the United States is spending less on foreign-made products and taking in more from sales of U.S.-made goods.
The Commerce Department said the economy expanded at a 1.5 percent annual rate in the April-June quarter. The department used an estimate of the June trade deficit to calculate that number.
Still, slower growth overseas could reduce demand for U.S. exports. Exports reached a record of $184.4 billion in March, then fell in April before edging back up in May. Overall, exports are up 5.7 percent in the first five months of this year compared to last year.
Exports to the 27-nation European Union rose in May, after falling sharply in the previous month. The U.S. trade deficit with the EU rose to $10.5 billion in May because imports increased.
Europe's financial crisis could push that region into recession, which could cut into U.S. exports. About one-fifth of U.S. exports are shipped to Europe.
There have been other recent signs that sales of U.S. goods overseas are cooling off. A private trade group said last week that its survey of manufacturers found that export orders fell in July to their lowest level in more than three years.
U.S. growth is too sluggish to support much hiring. Employers have added an average of 150,000 jobs per month this year, about the same as in 2011. That hasn't been enough to lower the unemployment rate, which was 8.3 percent in July.