Another Record Trade Gap

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The U.S. trade deficit shot up to a record $29.2 billion in February as Americans' demand for foreign oil hit an all-time monthly high while sales of exports dipped.

The Commerce Department said today that the deficit widened by 6.5 percent in February compared to a $27.4 billion January deficit.

Total imports climbed 1.5 percent to a record $113.4 billion as sales of chemicals and other industrial supplies and of capital goods, including computers and telecommunications equipment, rose to records.

Imports of foreign petroleum climbed to $9.6 billion in February, pushing the oil trade deficit to a record $8.8 billion. The price of crude oil hit $25.01 per barrel in February, the highest since $25.75 in December 1990, on the eve of the Persian Gulf War.

Production limits by oil-producing nations pushed crude-oil prices to a nine-year high in early March of $34 a barrel, but prices have fallen since then. A decision by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to boost production should provide additional relief.

Total U.S. exports slipped by 0.2 percent to $84.2 billion as demand for U.S. products from overseas economies picked up after being severely depressed from an Asian financial crisis that struck in 1997. Sales of food such as fish, corn and fruits fell, as did sales of cars and capital goods, including airplanes and industrial machines.

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