Other countries may not be buying as much of U.S. stuff, but our buying more of theirs is an indication of consumer strength. - 

The nation’s trade deficit plunged in December, likely giving the U.S. economy an unexpected boost to round out the year. The Commerce Department reports the trade gap dropped nearly 21 percent to $38.5 billion.

If you want to thank somebody -- in this case something -- gratitude goes to oil and natural gas. The U.S. exported an extra billion dollars of the stuff, all while importing the fewest barrels of crude oil in almost 16 years. 

“It’s two months in a row that exports have grown, and the big driver there is the Chinese economy is beginning to pick up again,” says Chris Lowe, chief economist at FTN Financial.

Lowe says even though we import a lot of stuff from China, that country relies pretty heavily on us.

“They need raw materials, and we make a lot of the equipment from oil rigs to big construction equipment that they make get those raw materials out of the ground,” he says. 

The strong showing means the GDP will likely be revised up enough to show growth, rather than decline.  

Follow Jeremy Hobson at @jeremyhobson