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U.S. trade deficit widened in May

Firms stockpiling goods for rest of year; exports fell

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WASHINGTON —The U.S. trade deficit widened to a record in May as businesses stockpiled goods to meet consumer demand through the rest of the year and oil imports rose, Commerce Department figures showed Wednesday.

The trade gap in goods and services grew to $31 billion from $30.5 billion in April. The increase reflected record imports of consumer goods including televisions, toys and VCRs. The stream of goods suggests U.S. businesses remain confident about the economy.

"There's an explosion in shipments to the U.S. from Asia for the holiday season," said William Sullivan, an economist at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter in New York, before the report. "A lot of containers are coming in earlier than usual to avoid port congestion."

Analysts had expected a May deficit of $30.5 billion, compared with the $30.4 billion previously reported for April.

Even so, total imports of goods and services fell 0.3 percent to $116.8 billion during May, the second straight monthly decline, reflecting fewer shipments of automobiles. Exports fell 1 percent to $85.7 billion, also the second straight monthly decline, as shipments of computer parts and other electronic goods decline.

The May data put the shortfall on track to reach more than $350 billion for all of 2000, up one-third from last year's record $265 billion.