Products less competitively priced abroad

Economic slowdowns in Europe and China appear to have hurt demand for American-made goods. Since September, the dollar has appreciated in value more than 4 percent against the euro to $1.25, making U.S. products less competitively priced abroad.

Exports fell 1.5 percent to $195.6 billion, led by declines in shipments of industrial supplies, consumer products and capital goods such as engines and computers.

September imports held steady at $238.6 billion for the second straight month.

The trade gap has been tempered this year by the boom in U.S. energy production, which has reduced dependence on foreign oil and increased U.S. petroleum exports. So far this year, petroleum imports are 7.6 percent below the level of a year ago. Part of that decline has come from falling oil prices, with crude imports costing 3.1 percent less so far this year.

Petroleum exports will likely fall in the months ahead, as oil prices have slipped below $80 a barrel from more than $100 a barrel in June.

"The collapse in crude oil prices means that the trade deficit will narrow again before the end of this year," said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics.

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