The U.S. trade deficit climbed in May as a surge in imports of Chinese-made cellphones and computers pushed the imbalance with China to the highest level in six months.
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The trade deficit rose to $41.1 billion in May compared to April’s $37.4 billion, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. It was the largest imbalance since February.
Exports, which have struggled this year because of a strong dollar and weak growth in overseas markets, edged down 0.2 percent to $182.4 billion. Imports jumped 1.6 percent to $223.5 billion.
America’s deficit with China jumped 19.4 percent to $29 billion, the largest imbalance since November.
Through the first five months of this year, the deficit is running 3.5 percent below the same period in 2015, a year in which America’s deficit in goods and services trade rose 2.1 percent to $500.4 billion. The lower deficit so far this year reflects the fact that while U.S. exports are down, imports are down by a larger amount, reflecting in large part lower oil prices.
For May, oil imports increased 8.4 percent to $11.1 billion, reflecting a rebound in prices during the month. The average price for a barrel of crude oil rose $4.71 to $34.19, the biggest one-month increase since a $5.55 rise from April to May in 2011.
Even with the gain, the average price for a barrel of crude is still $16.57 below the price a year ago.
The deficit with China is running 6.4 percent below last year’s pace, although the deficit is still the largest with any single country.
The deficit with the European Union rose 12.6 percent to $13.4 billion in May. America’s trade relationship with the 28 nation EU could undergo a significant change if Britain goes ahead with its decision to leave the EU.
U.S. export sales this year have been hurt by a strong dollar, which makes American products more expensive in overseas markets.
The dollar had been weakening slightly but has strengthened following the British vote as foreign investors have sought the safety of U.S. investments. ■