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March 10, 2011 2:00 PM, EST

U.S. Trade Deficit Jumps 15%

Larry Smith/Trans Pixs

The U.S. trade deficit widened 15% in January, the biggest jump in seven months, the Commerce Department said Thursday.

The gap between imports and exports rose to $46.3 billion, from $40.3 billion in December, the third straight increase.

The level was well above economists’ forecasts of a $41.3 billion gap, Bloomberg reported.

Imports jumped 5.2%, the most in 17 years, to $214.1 billion, the highest level since August 2008.

Imports rose 2.6% to $203.5 billion, the most since October 2008. Crude oil purchases rose to $22.5 billion, from $19.8 billion, as oil prices surged.

Exports rose 2.7% to $167.7 billion, boosted by record shipments of industrial supplies, and higher motor vehicles and food.