Page last updated at 15:48 GMT, Friday, 13 November 2009

US trade gap widens unexpectedly

Shipping containers, Long Beach, California
US imports increased by the largest amount in 16 years in September

The US trade deficit unexpectedly widened in September by the largest amount in 10 years, figures show.

The trade gap, the difference between US imports and exports, grew 18.2% to $36.5bn (£21.9bn) from August.

Imports rose 5.8%, the biggest jump since 1993 and an indication that consumer spending is recovering.

Separately, US consumer confidence figures unexpectedly fell. The Michigan survey of consumers fell to 66.0 in November - down from 70.6 in October.

Politically sensitive

The trade deficit had fallen sharply this year as the US economy went through a deep recession and the US dollar plummeted in value.

The latest figures show that the politically-sensitive trade gap with China widened 9.2% to $22.1bn in September as imports surged.

US President Barack Obama is on his first Asian tour this week, and will meet Chinese President Hu Jintao on Tuesday.

The US has maintained that China keeps its currency, the yuan, artificially cheap to make its exports more competitive.

The trade gap with China has narrowed by 15.9% in the first nine months of the year, much less than its 79.6% drop with Canada and 42% decline with the European Union.

US imports from the oil cartel Opec rose to $11.9bn in September, the highest since November 2008.

'Grim reality'

Meanwhile, the closely watched University of Michigan consumer confidence survey now stands at the lowest since August.

Figures indicate that in November, sentiment fell to 66.0 - below economists' forecasts of 71.0 and lower than the reading of 70.6 in October.

The accompanying statement said this was down to "the grim financial realities faced by consumers as well as weaker economic prospects for the year ahead".

It also pointed out that the decline in confidence was already in place before last week's announcement that the unemployment rate had risen to 10.2%.

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