Trade deficit grows on oil imports

Government report shows the gap widening more than expected on soaring prices.

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By Ben Rooney, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- High oil prices helped to expand the nation's trade deficit more than expected in April, reaching levels not seen in over a year, according to a government report released Tuesday.

The Commerce Department reported that imports outstripped exports in the month by $60.9 billion, up from a revised $56.5 billion in March. The last time the gap was this broad was in March 2007, when it was $62.3 billion.

Economists had expected the gap to widen to $60 billion, according to a consensus estimate compiled by Briefing.com.

"Crude oil prices are having an effect," said Michael Darda, chief economist at MKM Partners. But the overall trend in exports is "fairly strong" and may eventually offset some of the weakness in other areas of the economy, he added.

Exports of goods and services increased 3.3% in April, climbing $5 billion to $155.5 billion, the highest it's been since the measure's inception in 1992. But that was countered by a sharp 4.5% increase in imports, which rose $9.4 billion to $216.4 billion.

The portion of the trade gap due to oil increased 14%, while the portion due to non-petroleum goods was little changed.

Meanwhile, the average price for a barrel of oil jumped nearly 8% to a record high of $96.81 from $89.85 in March. This price included less refined grades of crude oil that are less expensive than the light crude that has surged as high as $139 a barrel recently.

The report also showed that the nation's trade gap with China increased 26% to $20.2 billion from $16 billion the month before.  To top of page

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