The US trade deficit widened in April, as demand for cars, mobile phones and other imported goods outpaced growth in US exports.

The Commerce Department said the trade gap rose 8.5% in April from March to $40.3 billion.

Exports increased 1.2% to $187.4 billion, the second-highest level on record.

Companies sold more telecommunications equipment, industrial machinery and airplane parts, while US-made car and auto parts also rose to an all-time high of $12.8 billion.

But imports grew an even faster 2.4% to $227.7 billion. Sales of non-US cars increased to $25.5 billion, while Americans also bought more consumer goods, led by big gain in foreign-made mobile phones.

Today's report showed a weaker global economy continues to reduce demand for US exports, which is likely to weigh on growth in the April-June quarter.

A wider trade gap can restrain growth because it means US consumers and businesses are spending more on foreign goods than US companies are taking in from overseas sales.

Europe's recession continues to be a problem for US companies. The deficit with the 27-nation European Union grew 25.6% to $12.4 billion. US exports to the region declined 7.9%, while imports from the region rose slightly.

The politically sensitive deficit with China surged to $24.1 billion, the highest level since January and the largest with any single nation. Imports jumped 21%, while exports fell 4.7%. The March deficit had been artificially lowered by shipping disruptions caused by the Chinese New Year holiday.

Fewer exports have slowed activity at US factories, according to a measure of US manufacturing released yesterday. The Institute for Supply Management said its index of manufacturing activity fell to 49 last month from 50.7 in April.

It was the lowest reading since June 2009 and the first time the index had slipped below 50 since November. A reading under 50 indicates contraction in manufacturing. A measure of export orders in the ISM report fell to its lowest level since January.

The weakness abroad has coincided with less investment in the US, as businesses have also held back, possibly out of concern that government spending cuts could hobble economic growth.

The US economy grew at an annual rate of 2.4% in the three months from January to March. Many economists think growth is slowing in the three months from April to June to an annual rate of around 2%. The US deficit so far this year is running at an annual rate of $491.9 billion, down 8% from the revised annual deficit of $534.7 billion for 2012.