The U.S. trade deficit widened 7.4% to $39.7 billion in February, the Commerce Department announced Tuesday, as rising imports outpaced rising exports.

Economists surveyed
by Bloomberg News had expected the trade deficit to edge slightly higher to $39.0 billion in February from a revised $37.0 billion in January. The trade deficit total $39.9 billion deficit in December.

In February, exports rose $300 million or by 0.2% to $143.2 billion, while imports rose $3.0 billion or by 1.7% to $182.9 billion.

Trade Deficit Up Slightly in 2010

For the first two months of 2010, the U.S. trade deficit totaled $76.4 billion, up 1.0% from the $75.6 billion total for the same period in 2009.

The U.S. trade deficit in February with key nations was as follows: China, $16.5 billion, down from $18.3 billion in January; European Union, $5.3 billion, up from $2.9 billion; OPEC, $6.4 billion, down from $7.2 billion; Japan, $4.3 billion, up $3.3 billion; Mexico, $4.8 billion, up from $4.6 billion; Canada, $2.8 billion, down from $3.9 billion; Germany, $2.3 billion, up from $1.1 billion; Venezuela, $2.1 billion, up from $1.6 billion; and Ireland, $2.0 billion, up from $1.6 billion.

Meanwhile, the U.S. recorded a traded surplus in February with Hong Kong of $1.6 billion, up from a $1.6 billion deficit in January; Australia, $1.0 billion, up from a $900 million deficit; and Belgium, $700 million, up from a $300 million deficit.

The standout features in February's trade report? After the slightly higher-than-expected top line $39.7 billion stat and the reduction in January's deficit to $37 billion, it would have to be the surpluses with Hong Kong, Australia and Belgium.

The deficit is trending higher, but not unreasonably so, given that the economy has been growing for two quarters, and the positive turn in the trade status with selected nations bodes well for the quarters ahead. The February report suggests continued belt tightening by U.S. consumers, while U.S. companies, aided by the weak dollar, register increased sales to international customers -- two trends that suggests declines in the trade deficit moving forward.

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