US exports and earnings cut trade deficit sharply

Sharp increases in foreign earnings of US companies helped narrow the deficit in the nation's international payments last year to $317 million, the government said Thursday. The small 1979 deficit compared with a $13.47 billion deficit in 1978 and was the smallest since the current account, the most widely used measure of the nation's payments position, was in surplus by $4.6 billion in 1976.

The Commerce Department said exceptionally large earnings by US companies abroad, particularly oil companies, more than made up for an $18 billion increase in the nation's bill for imported oil last year.

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