The U.S. trade deficit widened more than expected in November, as stronger consumer and manufacturer demand pushed imports to the highest level in nearly a year.
The monthly trade gap grew 9.7 percent to $36.4 billion, from an upwardly revised estimate of $33.2 billion in October, a Commerce Department report showed on Tuesday.
Analysts surveyed before the report had expected the deficit to widen to about $34.8 billion.
U.S. imports of goods and services jumped 2.6 percent to $174.6 billion, the highest since December 2008.
The average price for a barrel of imported oil rose to $72.54, the highest since October 2008, but volume was the lowest in more than 10 years.
The overall import jump reflected gains in industrial supplies and materials, consumer goods and capital goods, which more than offset slight declines for food and auto imports.
The trade data had little impact on financial markets. U.S. stocks looked set to open lower, weighed down by disappointing earnings results from Alcoa Inc and an earnings warning from Chevron Corp. For more, see
U.S. exports of goods and services rose by a less robust 0.9 percent in November to $138.2 billion, the highest in a year.
That included a record $7.3 billion to China, beating the record set just one month before. Soybeans were the major cause of the increase in both October and November, as U.S. suppliers stepped in to fill a shortage caused by drought in Argentina.
However, U.S. semiconductor exports to China were down $1.5 billion in the first 11 months of 2009, as the U.S. trade deficit for advanced technology goods hit a record in November.
Food, feed and beverage exports posted the biggest overall gain in November, followed by autos and capital goods. Exports of consumer goods and industrial materials showed slight declines.
The global financial crisis sharply curtailed trade in developed countries last year. As a result, the U.S. trade gap appears likely to fall below $400 billion in 2009 for first time since 2001. Through the end of November, the trade gap totaled $340.6 billion.
(Reporting by Doug Palmer, Editing by Neil Stempleman)