Dow Jones

WASHINGTON - The trade gap between the United States and its global trading partners widened again in June, setting a record on the strength of increased oil-related imports.

The Commerce Department said Friday that the deficit was $30.62 billion in June, up from $30.31 billion in May. Previously, the May gap had been estimated at a much higher $31.04 billion.

The smaller-than-expected deficit may cheer financial markets, as it suggests a pause in the recent trend of increasing U.S. reliance on foreign capital. While the Federal Reserve is expected to leave interest rates unchanged at its meeting Tuesday, monetary policymakers have shown increasing concern over the trade gap in recent months.

Wall Street analysts had expected a larger trade gap in June. In a survey of 15 economists by Dow Jones and CNBC, the median forecast had called for a $31.70 billion deficit.

The deficit could be on the agenda for discussion at a Fed conference set for this week in Wyoming.

An academic paper to be presented there theorizes that the U.S. dollar could lose 12% to 45% of its value should the current-account picture move into balance.

In testimony before a House panel last month ,Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan said that, eventually "something has got to give" and that it was unclear if it would happen in an orderly fashion or "occur more abruptly."

The trade gap grew sharply in response to overseas financial crises in 1997 and 1998 that weakened demand for U.S.-made goods but has defied expectations of shrinking. Strong demand domestically has instead led to continued widening of imports compared with exports.

While sales of goods and services abroad grew in June, posting their first gain since March, imports rebounded strongly from May's decline as well.

Exports rose 4.6%, to $90.56 billion, while imports rose 3.7%, to $121.18 billion. Both the export and import levels set records.

The Commerce Department attributed most of the June gain in imports to increased crude oil and motor vehicle imports. Part of the gain in crude oil imports was likely caused by rising prices in late spring.

On a seasonally unadjusted basis, crude petroleum imports rose to $8.02 billion in June from May's $7.17 billion. The price per barrel hit $26.65, up from $24.16 in May and the highest level since November 1990.

Imports of cars and car parts rose $1.06 billion in the month.

On the export side of the ledger, the United States had its best gains in big-ticket capital goods sales, particularly semiconductors and computer accessories. The nation also exported more raw industrial supplies, including nonmonetary gold and nuclear fuel.

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