U.S. exports rose in September, cutting the trade deficit to the lowest level in nearly two years.
Thursday's report from the Commerce Department said the gap between what Americans sell abroad and what they buy from foreign sources narrowed more than five percent to $41.5 billion for the month.
Officials said growing demand from South and Central America helped overcome a slowdown in Europe and China.
A separate report said the number of Americans signing up for unemployment compensation dropped by 8,000 to a total of 355,000 last week.
Economists watch jobless claims as a way of tracking layoffs and the health of the job market.
Hurricane Sandy may foul up the figures for a few weeks. Damage to stores and factories will raise the number of people out of work, but the same storm may close government offices, delaying applications for jobless assistance.