The US trade gap unexpectedly narrowed in August to its smallest level in seven months on an increase in exports, supporting views of sturdy economic growth in the third quarter.

The Commerce Department has said the trade gap narrowed 0.5% to $40.1bn. 

July's trade deficit was revised to $40.3bn.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected the deficit to widen to $40.9bn in August from a previously reported $40.6bn shortfall a month earlier.

Exports increased 0.2% to $198.5bn in August, supported by rising sales aboard of US capital goods, consumer goods and industrial supplies.

Imports edged up 0.1% to $238.6bn. Imports of petroleum and autos declined. 

Petroleum imports were at their lowest level since November 2010, aided by a domestic energy boom that has seen the United States reduce its dependence on foreign oil. Imports of capital goods were the highest on record.

The politically sensitive trade gap with China narrowed in August, while exports to Japan rose to their highest level since March 1996.