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Trade gap narrows as global demand slips

The U.S. trade deficit narrowed in April when a drop in exports was outpaced by an even larger decline in imports, the Commerce Department reported Friday.

The decline in both sides of the equation was a signal that global demand was slipping as economies felt the aftershocks of the eurozone financial crisis.

The Commerce Department said the trade deficit slipped to $50.1 billion, down from $52.6 billion in March. Exports, which had hit a record in March, declined to $182.9 billion in April from $184.4 billion the prior month. Imports retreated by $4.1 billion to $233.0 billion.

Wall Street analysts surveyed before the report had expected a slightly smaller trade gap of $49.5 billion.

Exports to the 27-nation European Union, in the grip of a continuing debt crisis that has slowed growth on the continent, fell 11.1 percent in April to $22.3 billion.

The EU collectively was the United States' second largest export market last year, and exports in the first four months of 2012 were 3.5 percent above the same period in 2011 despite the downturn in April.

Exports to China, which is also growing more slowly than in recent years, fell 14 percent in April. China has been one of the fastest growing markets for U.S. goods, and exports to that country were up 4.3 percent for the first four months of 2012.

The drop in exports in April mainly reflected less foreign demand for capital goods and industrial supplies and materials.

Imports fell despite an increase in the average price of imported oil to $109.94 per barrel, the highest since August 2008. The volume of oil imports also rose slightly to 9 million barrels per day.

Imports from the EU slipped 11.1 percent to $31.0 billion, while imports from China rose 4.8 percent to $33 billion.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Boris Schlossberg, GFT Forex director of currency research and Scott Shellady, Bradford Capital Management, explain how the deepening crisis in Europe is impacting U.S. investments.