The US government budget showed a surplus in January for the first time since September as the overall budget deficit trended lower, Treasury Department data released Tuesday showed.
The federal budget had a surplus of $2.9 billion, the biggest January surplus in five years, the Treasury said.
In January 2012, the budget gap stood at $27.4 billion.
The surplus caught analysts by surprise; the average estimate was a $2.0 billion deficit.
The unexpected January surplus followed a $1.2 billion deficit in December, which had marked a sharp drop from the average $146.1 billion shortfall in the two prior months.
In January, revenues jumped 16.1 percent from a year ago to $272.2 billion. Spending also increased but at a much slower pace, of 2.9 percent, to $269.3 billion.
In the first four months of the 2013 fiscal year that began on October 1, the federal budget gap has shrunk 17 percent compared with the same period in 2012, to $290.4 billion.
For the current fiscal year, the Obama administration forecast the deficit will come in below $1 trillion for the first time in five years, at $991 billion, or 6.1 percent of GDP.
The United States reduced its budget deficit to 7.0 percent of gross domestic product, or economic output, in fiscal 2012, down from 8.7 percent of GDP in the prior year, under a tightening effort aimed at paring high debt and promoting sustainable growth.
With GDP growth weak -- a 0.1 percent contraction in the 2012 fourth quarter -- and the unemployment rate at 7.9 percent, many Americans feel the country is still in recession despite its official exit in June 2009.
A majority of 53 percent of voters said the economy was in a recession, according to a poll released Monday by Quinnipiac University.