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The U.S. trade deficit shrank to $51.6 billion in September, an improvement brought about as exports posted their best month on record.

The latest snapshot of trade activity, reported by the Commerce Department today, came after the deficit had swelled to $53.5 billion in August -- the second-highest level ever registered. September's trade deficit represented a 3.7 percent reduction from August.

The size of the deficit in September -- still the third-largest ever -- turned out to be smaller than the roughly $53 billion or $54 billion deficit that some economists were forecasting.

Exports of goods and services grew to a record $97.5 billion in September, marking a 0.8 percent increase from the previous month. Exports were helped by a weaker dollar, which makes U.S. goods cheaper to foreign buyers, and improving foreign demand.

Following the report the U.S. dollar slumped to a new all-time low against the euro as the shared European currency rose above $1.30 for the first time. The euro hit $1.3007 after the release of the trade figures, breaking its previous record of $1.2987 set Monday.

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