Rising prices for imported crude oil caused the U.S. trade deficit in December to increase 5.9 percent from the previous month, the Commerce Department said.
The $40.6 billion deficit for December increased the deficit for 2010 to $497.8 billion, a 32.8 percent increase from 2009. It was the biggest annual percentage gain since 2000. In 2009, the deficit had fallen to the lowest point in eight years as demand for imports plunged.
Economists believe the deficit will keep widening in 2011 but that U.S. manufacturers will benefit from a weaker dollar, which makes their goods more competitive in foreign markets.
Exports increased 1.8 percent in December but imports rose 2.6 percent, driven by a 16 percent increase in the price of crude oil imports. Excluding petroleum, the deficit shrank to $15.3 billion, the smallest monthly increase since March.
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