Broad measure of trade drops 12% in 2nd quarter as exports rise

WASHINGTON — The U.S. current account trade deficit decreased more than 12% to $117.4 billion from April through June as exports increased along with money flowing into the country from foreign investments, the Commerce Department said Tuesday.

The current account figure — a comprehensive gauge that includes trade in goods and services, as well as income and government transfers — came in below analysts’ expectations. The deficit for the first quarter was a revised $133.6 billion.

The report came a day after trade tensions flared between the U.S. and China, which filed dueling complaints with the World Trade Organization.

President Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, have been sharply critical of China’s export practices as that nation has built a huge trade surplus with the U.S.

The Commerce Department said that U.S. exports in five major end-use categories — including foods, feeds and beverages; consumer goods; and automotive vehicles, parts and engines — increased in the second quarter to $394.1 billion from $388.5 billion in the first quarter, fueling the improved deficit figures.

The increase in the foods category was mostly the result of an increase in the export value of soybeans, Prices for soybeans shot up this year because of the Midwest drought.

Meanwhile, imports of goods declined $579.9 billion in the second quarter from $582.8 billion in the first, driven largely by a decrease in imports of oil and petroleum products. The U.S. trade surplus on services increased to $46.5 billion from $45.9 billion.

At the same time, income brought back to the U.S. on foreign-owned assets increased to $184.6 billion from $183.2 billion, boosted by higher payments on interest and dividends.