US trade deficit pushed up by rising oil import costs

Oil tanker
Image caption Oil prices rose sharply in March due to the conflict in Libya, and rose further in April

The US saw a widening trade deficit in March thanks largely to the increasing cost of the country's oil imports.

The $48.2bn (£29.5bn) shortfall was up from $45.4bn a month earlier, data from the Commerce Department showed, and beat expectations of just $47bn.

However, excluding trade in petroleum products, the deficit was only $16.9bn and had fallen since the month before on a seasonally-adjusted basis.

Exports grew 4.6% to $173bn - surpassing their pre-recession high.

The country's exports saw their biggest monthly gain in 17 years, led by food and beverages, and industrial supplies.

Crude oil prices increased sharply at the end of February thanks to the conflict in Libya, and this has been reflected in the rising cost of imports for the US.

They rose even further in April, and despite the recent sharp sell-off in commodity markets, remain close to the levels seen in March.

The news pushed the dollar sharply higher against most currencies, as the strong export performance brought forward expectations for when the US Fed will start raising interest rates.

The trade figures were released at the same time as positive jobs data from the Labor Department that showed a rise in the number of job openings in March.

The stronger dollar helped to bring the price of US sweet light oil - which is measured in dollars - down 4.5%.

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