The U.S. trade deficit widened nearly 9 percent in October to a record $55.5 billion as imports surged to the loftiest levels on record and high oil prices contributed to the widening trade gap, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday.

The latest snapshot of trade activity showed the country's trade imbalance widening by 8.9 percent in October from the previous month. The trade deficit was much bigger than the $52.4 billion imbalance economists were forecasting.

Imports of goods and services climbed to a record high of $153.5 billion in October, representing a 3.4 percent increase from September. October's unexpectedly large shortfall pushed the deficit tally for the first ten months of 2004 to $500.5 billion, surpassing the record of $496.5 billion for all of 2003.

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