WASHINGTON (AP) _ A big jump in sales of soybeans, wheat and other American farm products helped offset a rise in U.S. purchases of foreign cars and oil, narrowing the trade deficit for a second straight month.

The Commerce Department reported today that the October deficit fell 1.2 percent to $14.2 billion, the lowest level since April.

Even with the improvements in September and October, the overall deficit is still running at a record annual rate of $167 billion, far above last year's gap of $110.2 billion, as the Asian financial crisis continues to batter key parts of the American economy.

The politically sensitive deficit with Japan shot up to the highest level in more than 2 1/2 years while the deficit with China for the year continued to run at a record level.