The trade deficit unexpectedly grew in November, a drag on economic growth, although the gap's widening was driven by a surge in consumer goods imports, which gives a positive signal for consumer spending.

The Commerce Department said on Friday the trade gap increased 16 percent in November to $48.7 billion.

Analysts were expecting the deficit to shrink to $41.3 billion, so the report could lead some economists to trim their forecasts for economic growth in the fourth quarter.

Net imports suck cash out of the economy, subtracting from gross domestic product.

The trade deficit was the widest since April, and its expansion was driven by a 3.8 percent increase in imports, the largest gain in eight months.

Imports of consumer goods rose by $4.6 billion, while imports of petroleum products fell by $870 million. That might point to firmer consumer demand, which is the main engine of the U.S. economy.

While the Commerce Department does not release seasonally adjusted data for the U.S. trade deficits with countries and regions, the U.S. goods trade gap with China fell 1.7 percent from October. with a drop in exports outweighing a slighter fall in imports.

Imports surged 4.1 percent from the European Union, and were up 6.4 percent from Germany.

Overall, seasonally adjusted exports rose 1 percent.

The increase was held back by a 1.3 percent decline in exports to the European Union, which continues to battle a sovereign debt crisis that has sent several of its member countries into recession.

(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Neil Stempleman)