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updated 12/16/2010 8:57:17 AM ET 2010-12-16T13:57:17

Americans' stronger appetite for imported goods helped to lift the broadest measure of the U.S. trade deficit in the July-September quarter to its highest point since late 2008.

The current account trade deficit grew to $127.2 billion in the third quarter, a 3.3 percent increase from the second quarter, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. It was the fifth straight quarterly increase. That could be viewed as a healing sign for the U.S. economy as Americans regain their appetite to spend.

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Imports grew to $494.2 billion, up 1.7 percent from the April-June quarter. U.S. demand for consumer goods, including clothing, footwear and household appliances, was especially strong. So was demand for semiconductors.

Exports rose to $323.1 billion, posting a solid 2.2 percent gain. The falling dollar has made U.S. goods less expensive and more attractive to foreign buyers. Foreign demand was especially strong for U.S.-made machinery, equipment and for airplanes, as well as for foods, feeds and beverages.

The current account is the broadest measure of foreign trade. It tracks the flow of goods and services as well as investments between the United States and other countries.

For all of 2009, the current account deficit contracted to $378.4 billion, a 43.4 percent drop from the 2008 deficit. The sharp decline reflected the toll of the severe recession in the United States, which reduced Americans' demand for imported goods.

But with the economy growing for the past year — and more recently flashing signs of gaining momentum — economists believe the trade deficit will increase this year.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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