May 6, 2014 8:40 AM, EDT
Trade Gap Shrinks in March by 3.6% to $40.4 Billion
Ariana Lindquist/Bloomberg News

The trade deficit narrowed in March by 3.6% to $40.4 billion from the prior month’s $41.9 billion, the Commerce Department reported.

The median forecast in a Bloomberg News survey of 66 economists called for a reduction to $40 billion. Sales to foreign customers climbed 2.1% on growing demand for aircraft, autos and fuels.

A slowdown in trade helped depress economic growth in the first quarter, which was already held back by harsh winter weather that trimmed business investment. The March improvement adds to a spate of data showing the world’s largest economy was gaining steam heading into the second quarter.

“We are looking for exports to continue to outpace growth in the overall economy,” said Mike Englund, chief economist at Action Economics. “We’re assuming a 3% to 4% clip in export growth. The world economy is growing slightly faster than the U.S. economy.”

Exports increased to $193.9 billion from $190 billion in February, paced by record demand from Canada, South Korea and the countries in the CAFTA-DR trade zone, which includes Central America and the Dominican Republic.

Imports climbed 1.1 % to $234.3 billion from $231.8 billion in the prior month, as Americans bought more foreign-made cellular phones, semiconductors and civilian aircraft, which points to a pickup in business investment.