Official figures show that the US trade deficit shrank in February as imports fell by more than exports.

The monthly trade gap totalled $45.8 billion, down from an upwardly revised estimate of $47 billion in January. Economists had expected the deficit to narrow to $44.5 billion.

US exports, after rising in each of the previous five months, fell 1.4% in February to $165.1 billion. That was led by a $1 billion drop in car and car parts exports, with smaller declines for other major categories. Services exports rose just enough to set a record.

US imports, which like US exports have roared back from the depths of the global financial crisis in 2008 and 2009, fell by a larger 1.7% in February to $210.9 billion.

Car imports fell by $2.3 billion, followed by a $2.1 billion drop in capital goods. Imports of consumer goods rose by $2.3 billion in February.

The average price for imported oil rose for the fifth straight month in February to $87.17 per barrel, the highest since October 2008. But that was tempered by the lowest quantity of crude oil imports since February 1999.

The closely watched US trade deficit with China shrank 19% in February to $18.8 billion, as US imports from that country fell and US exports to the Asian manufacturing giant rose.