The US trade deficit narrowed sharply in December because oil imports plummeted and total exports rose.

The smaller trade gap means that the economy is likely to have performed better in the final three months of last year than first estimated last week.

The Commerce Department said the trade deficit fell nearly 21% in December, to $38.6 billion, the smallest in nearly three years.

Exports rose 2.1% to $186.4 billion. Exports of oil and other petroleum products rose to the highest level on record.

Imports shrank 2.7% to $224.9 billion. Oil imports plunged to 223 billion barrels, the lowest since February 1997.

A narrower trade gap boosts growth because it means US companies earned more from overseas sales while consumers and businesses spent less on foreign products.