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Morning Market Roundup: China Scrambles, U.S. Trade Deficit Narrows, Californian Blackouts


Here’s what’s important in the business world this morning:

Trade Deficit: The U.S. trade deficit shrunk in April, but only because a big drop in imports offset the first decline in U.S. exports in five months.

The Commerce Department says the trade deficit narrowed 4.9 percent in April to $50.1 billion.

U.S. exports, which had hit a record the previous month, fell 0.8 percent to $182.9 billion. Sales of everything from commercial jetliners to industrial machinery declined.

Imports, which also set a record in March, dropped an even faster 1.7 percent to $233 billion.

China: China cut state-set gasoline and diesel prices for the second time in a month on Friday amid mounting government efforts to reverse a sharp slowdown in the world's second-largest economy.

The reduction in fuel prices followed an interest rate cut on Thursday, which was the first in almost four years, and a small but significant step toward letting the market set rates paid on bank deposits.

The fuel price cut will reduce retail costs of the mostly commonly used grade of gasoline by over 5 percent. Diesel prices will be cut by a similar amount, effective Saturday.

The central bank's rate cut was the first since 2008 and came as Chinese leaders are reversing course after tightening controls for two years to cool an overheated economy. Beijing also announced that it will for the first time allow banks to pay deposit rates higher than the state-mandated level. That might help to shift money to households and boost consumer spending.

U.S. Futures: U.S. stock futures slipped Friday ahead of what many believe may be weaker-than-expected trade and industrial data from China over the weekend.

China has worked feverishly to maintain its economic momentum with a series of measures over the past several days as growth hits three-year lows.

Those efforts continued Friday, when China cut state-set gasoline and diesel prices for the second time in a month by more than 5 percent.

After three days of gains in U.S. indexes, Dow Jones industrial average futures fell 59 points to 12,347. Standard & Poor's 500 futures fell 6 points to 1,304 and Nasdaq futures gave up 9 points to 2,522.

California Nukes: Southern California utility officials are warning that blackouts in the region are possible this summer as a result of the sidelined San Onofre nuclear power plant.

The damaged plant is likely to remain sidelined until at least the end of August while investigators probe excessive wear in tubing that carries radioactive water, the plant's operator said Thursday.

The officials say that if a heat wave hits while the twin-reactor plant is offline, rotating blackouts are a possibility. Utilities have been scrambling to find replacement power as a precaution, including restarting two retired natural gas-fired plants in Orange County.

Southern California Edison said in a statement that the company plans by the end of July to submit a plan to federal regulators to restart the Unit 2 reactor, where damage to tubes in its steam generators has been less severe than in its twin, Unit 3.

A proposal to restart either reactor must be approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and that review could take weeks or longer.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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