WASHINGTON — The U.S. trade deficit unexpectedly widened to a seasonally adjusted $42.3 billion in May, the largest deficit since November 2008, as exports and imports rose to their highest levels in almost two years, the Commerce Department reported yesterday.

The value of imported goods and services expanded $5.5 billion to $194.5 billion, the largest gain since December 2009. Consumer goods increased $2.6 billion and capital goods imports rose $2.0 billion, both to the highest levels since September 2008.

Diane Swonk, chief economist of Mesirow Financial, said the increase in imports was due partly to stockpiling by retailers and producers worried about a potential trade war with China.

Exports of goods and services rose $3.5 billion to $152.3 billion, the highest level since September 2008. Capital goods exports expanded $2.0 billion and industrial supplies and materials exports rose $600 million, both reaching their highest levels since August 2008.

Economists expected the U.S. trade deficit to narrow to $39.0 billion in May. The April trade deficit was unrevised at $40.3 billion.

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