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US trade deficit hits record high

Surging oil prices helped push gap to $55.5b in October

WASHINGTON -- America's trade deficit swelled to a record high of $55.5 billion in October as imports -- including those from China -- surged to the loftiest levels ever. Skyrocketing crude oil prices also contributed to the yawning trade gap.

The latest snapshot of trade activity, reported by the Commerce Department yesterday, showed the country's trade imbalance widening by a sizable 8.9 percent in October from the previous month -- despite the fact that US exports registered their best month on record.

The growth in imports, however, dwarfed the pace of exports in October, producing another bloated trade gap. The trade deficit was much bigger than the $52.4 billion imbalance economists were forecasting.

Imports of goods and services climbed to a record high of $153.5 billion in October, a 3.4 percent increase from September.

The United States' politically sensitive trade deficit with China clocked a record $16.8 billion as imports flowing from the country posted all-time highs.

''The shortfall with China grew for the eighth month in a row . . . as Americans start to fill up stockings with Chinese-made toys, games, sporting goods, electronics, and computer accessories," said Sherry Cooper, chief economist at BMO Nesbitt Burns.

The Bush administration has been pressing China to let its currency, the yuan, be set in open markets. US manufacturers claim Beijing's currency policies give Chinese companies a big advantage over US companies.

Another factor in October's trade deficit was surging prices for imported crude oil. The average price of crude oil soared to a record $41.79 a barrel -- a whopping 11.1 percent increase from September's price.

US exports, meanwhile, rose by 0.6 percent in October from the previous month to a record $98.1 billion. Sales of US-made industrial supplies to other countries totaled a record high of $18 billion.

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