The gap grew a larger-than-anticipated 18 percent to $36.5 billion, the highest level since January, from a revised $30.8 billion in August, the Commerce Department said. Imports surged by the most in 16 years, swamping a gain in exports.
Demand for foreign products may remain elevated in coming months as consumer and business spending improve and companies aim to prevent inventories from collapsing even more. Exports may also rise as expanding economies in Asia and Europe and a weak dollar drive demand for American goods, giving manufacturers such as Dow Chemical Co. a lift.
A collapse in world trade earlier this year brought the gap down to $26.4 billion in May, its lowest level since November 1999, as imports plunged even faster than exports. As commerce begins to pick back up, global leaders agree more needs to be done to strengthen the expansion.
Imports climbed 5.8 percent, the most since March 1993, to $168.4 billion. The figures reflected a $4.1 billion increase in imported oil as the cost of a barrel of crude climbed to the highest level since October 2008 and volumes also rose.
Purchases of foreign-made autos and parts surged by $1.7 billion to $16.4 billion, due mainly to a $1.3 billion increase in imports from Canada and Mexico as North American vehicle production picked up. Imports from South Korea also climbed.
The federal cash for clunkers” auto trade-in program, which expired in late August, generated momentum in car sales and boosted demand for parts and supplies. Automotive inventory restocking is also boosting demand for foreign-made autos and parts.
Exports rose 2.9 percent to $132 billion, the most this year, propelled by sales of civilian aircraft, industrial machines and petroleum products. The dollar this month was down 12 percent from a five-year high reached in March against a trade-weighted basket of currencies from it’s biggest trading partners.
After eliminating the influence of prices, which are the numbers used to calculate gross domestic product, the trade deficit grew to $41.7 billion, the highest since January. The figures suggest the government may revise down their estimate for third-quarter economic growth.