The US trade deficit jumped in December as the strong dollar helped to boost imports sharply.
But a surprising surge in oil and oil products imports, despite the plunge in crude prices, may have distorted the monthly figures, analysts said.
The monthly deficit jumped by $6.8 billion from November to $46.6 billion. Exports fell $1.5 billion to $194.9 billion, while imports rose $5.3 billion, $241.4.
That rounded out a year in which the US trade deficit grew 6.0 percent to $505 billion. Exports rose 2.9 percent to $2.35 trillion, and imports gained 3.4 percent to $2.85 trillion.
Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics called the surge in the deficit in December "baffling," with the volume of oil imports surging 31.7 percent to "far above the underlying trend" and handily offsetting the drop in oil prices.
"We have to expect a big correction in January," he said.
Economist Jay Morelock of FTN Financial noted the implicit effects of the strong dollar.
"The trade gap with China and the European Union widened to an all-time high as US consumers take advantage of the increased spending power of the greenback and a relatively healthy economy," he said in a client note.