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A motorist fuels up at a gas station in downtown Toronto on Jan. 5, 2015.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Canada's November merchandise trade deficit widened as exports fell the most since January, 2012, on falling crude oil prices.

The deficit of $644-million followed an October reading that was revised to a $327-million deficit from a $99-million surplus, Statistics Canada said Wednesday in Ottawa. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg forecast a $200-million November shortfall, based on the median of 14 forecasts. The widest deficit prediction was $400-million.

Plunging prices for oil, Canada's top export, may curb the value of shipments abroad this year even as manufacturers benefit from faster U.S. growth and a lower currency. Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz said last month growth may be reduced if low prices persist, and economists surveyed by Bloomberg have cut their export forecast for this year.

Shipments of crude oil and bitumen dropped 9.9 per cent to $6.9-billion in November. Prices fell 6.7 per cent and volumes by 3.4 per cent. Overall energy shipments have declined for six straight months. Canada's total trade balance has worsened for four consecutive months.

West Texas Intermediate oil dropped below $48 a barrel Tuesday for the first time since April, 2009, as surging supply signaled that the global glut that drove crude into a bear market will persist. Bellatrix Exploration Ltd. said Dec. 22 it would cut its 2015 capital budget to $300-million from $400-million citing lower energy prices. The Calgary-based company develops oil and natural gas projects in western Canada.

Canada's total exports fell 3.5 per cent to $43.3-billion, the biggest percentage decline since January, 2012. Sales fell in nine of 11 categories, including an 8.3 per cent decline to $5-billion for metal and non-metallic minerals.

Imports fell 2.7 per cent to $43.9-billion, the first decline since June, Statistics Canada said.

The volume of exports declined 1.6 per cent and import volumes fell 1.7 per cent, Statistics Canada said. Volume figures adjust for price changes and can be a better indicator of how trade contributes to economic growth.

The surplus with the U.S. narrowed to $2.9-billion in November from $3.2-billion a month earlier. Exports make up about one-third of Canada's economy, with about 75 per cent of the shipments going to the U.S.

The deficit with countries other than the U.S. widened to $3.6-billion from $3.5-billion.

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