The U.S. trade deficit widened in April, as the lowest spending on imported petroleum in more than two years could not offset higher demand for foreign cars and mobile telephones, and growth in exports was limited by slowing economies in Europe and China, the government reported Tuesday.
The Commerce Department said the trade deficit widened 8.5 percent in April to $40.3 billion. Economists expected a bigger deficit of $41 billion.
When adjusted for inflation, the trade deficit rose to $47.6 billion from $44.6 billion in March. The widening in the so-called real trade deficit could prompt economists to reduce their already low estimates for second-quarter gross domestic product (GDP).
U.S. exports increased 1.2 percent to $187.4 billion in April, the second-highest level on record. Companies sold more telecommunications equipment, industrial machinery, and airplane parts, while U.S.-made autos and auto parts also rose to a record high of $12.8 billion.
But imports grew an even faster 2.4 percent to $227.7 billion. Sales of foreign cars increased to $25.5 billion. Americans also purchased more consumer goods, led by a big jump in foreign-made mobile telephones. The gain in imports was slowed by the lowest value of petroleum imports since November 2010.
The trade deficit so far this year is running at an annual rate of $491.9 billion, down 8 percent from the annual deficit of $534.7 billion for 2012.
In April, the politically sensitive deficit with China soared to $24.1 billion, the highest level since January and the largest with any single country. Imports jumped 21 percent, while exports fell 4.7 percent. Despite the April decline in U.S. exports, China has been one of the fastest growing markets for U.S. goods, and exports were up 4.8 percent for the first four months of the year.
The U.S. deficit with the 27-country European Union (EU) grew 25.6 percent to $12.4 billion. U.S. exports to the region - much of which is in recession - fell 7.9 percent, while imports rose slightly. Exports to the EU in the first four months of 2013 were down 7.4 percent compared to the same period in 2012.