U.S. trade deficit falls to lowest in nearly year

The U.S. trade deficit fell in November to the lowest level in almost a year, thanks to the country’s swiftly shrinking thirst for foreign oil.

The deficit – imports minus exports – narrowed to $39 billion during the month, down 7.7 percent from a revised October deficit of $42.2 billion, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday.

U.S. exports slipped 1 percent to $196.4 billion amid lower sales of commercial airliners.

Primarily because of oil, imports posted a steeper drop of 2.2 percent to $235.4 billion. The volume of crude imported in November hit its lowest level since 1994, while the average price hit a two-year low of $82.95 a barrel. A simultaneous boom in domestic oil production has also cut the country’s reliance on imported oil.

Minutes show Fed ready for likely rate hike in 2015

Federal Reserve policymakers who met in December expressed concern about weakness overseas but were upbeat enough about the U.S. economy and impact of lower oil prices to prepare for a likely interest rate hike this year.

Minutes of the Fed’s Dec. 16-17 meeting released Wednesday show that Fed officials believed stagnant global growth posed one of the biggest downside risks to the U.S., particularly if it triggered turmoil in global financial markets or if any policy moves abroad proved ineffective.

FHA will lower premiums on mortgage insurance

First-time homebuyers who obtain government-backed loans would benefit from an Obama administration move to lower mortgage insurance premiums.

Under the plan, the Federal Housing Administration will reduce its annual mortgage insurance premiums by 0.5 percentage points, to 0.85 percent. The White House said Wednesday the reduction means new homebuyers would pay $900 less a year than they would otherwise.

President Obama is making stops in Michigan, Arizona and Tennessee this week, drawing attention to the themes he intends to highlight in his State of the Union address Jan. 20.

– From news service reports