While uncertain oil futures have caused concern in energy markets, the surplus of oil globally has been a boon for the United States trade deficit. The important metric determines the rate of American exports versus imports, and fell to $39 billion in November.
In October, that number stood 7.7 percent higher at $42.2 billion, according to a Commerce Department report. While exports for the month fell 1 percent to $196.4 billion, imports fell more precipitously, down 2.2 percent to $235.4 million. Experts credit the bulk of that shift to a decreased dependence on foreign oil, as imports of the fuel hit the lowest rate since 1994.
"The trade gap will continue to shrink apace until the oil import tab stops falling like a rock," said Patrick Newport, an economist at Global Insight, to the Associated Press.
The trade deficit serves as a good indicator of the United States' competitive edge. In a perfectly balanced global economy, the trade deficit would be zero. And while the new figures still show room for improvement, they indicate a trend in the right direction for American energy producers, manufacturers and other export sectors.
The much-watched trade deficit with China also dropped significantly, down 8 percent to $29.9 billion. Of all the countries with which the U.S. does business, China is the competitor where the trade deficit currently looms largest. Overall, trade deficits across the map rose in 2014, 5.1 percent higher on average than in the previous year, based on the first 11 months. While December figures have yet to finish 2014's overall trajectory, economists still have data to feel positive about.
As the U.S. recovers from the recession, trade deficit figures show an economy that is slowly but surely returning to self-sufficiency. Large manufacturers and small machine shops alike may benefit from improved trade numbers.