By Leah Schnurr
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's trade gap widened in June as a drop in energy shipments pulled exports back from a record high but sustained jobs growth in July was enough to keep expectations alive for yet another interest rate increase in the coming months.
Canada's trade gap was C$3.6 billion ($2.9 billion), Statistics Canada said on Friday, exceeding forecasts of a C$1.35 billion deficit. May's figures were revised to show a wider shortfall than initially reported.
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Exports tumbled 4.3 percent, the largest decrease since February 2016 as both prices and volumes declined. The drop was widespread across categories, led by a decrease in metal products, and crude oil and bitumen.
The decrease in oil shipments led to a 4.5 percent decline in exports to the United States, Canada's largest trading partner. Canada's trade surplus with the United States shrank to C$2.17 billion, the smallest since June 2016.
Although the trade report was disappointing, economists said it was tempered by separate employment figures showing an increase of 10,900 jobs in July.
"The ongoing strength in the labor market suggests the Bank of Canada is on track to raise interest rates at least one more time this year, probably in October," said Sal Guatieri, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets.
Canada's labor market has picked up in the past year, adding 387,600 jobs since last July, with 353,500 of those full-time positions.
The Bank of Canada raised rates last month for the first time in seven years amid the improving jobs picture and signs the economy has recovered from 2015's oil price shock.
The data saw markets slightly trim their bets for another hike, although traders are still pricing in 40 percent odds of an increase at the bank's next meeting in September.
Many economists think the appreciation in the Canadian dollar and weak inflation will prompt the central bank to wait until October to hike again. Market odds for an October move are at 66 percent. <BOCWATCH>
The Canadian dollar added to declines against the greenback following the reports, as well as data that showed the United States created more jobs than expected last month.
Fewer people looking for work pushed the Canadian unemployment rate down to 6.3 percent, the lowest since October 2008 when the global financial crisis was taking hold.
July's job gains were driven by increased hiring in the services sector, with the trade industry adding 21,900 new jobs. Hiring was also seen in manufacturing and trade.
(Additional reporting by Susan Taylor in Toronto; Editing by Bill Trott)