With the US presidential election looming, the White House incumbent may feel somewhat depressed by the nation's latest trade deficit figures.

At $54 billion (€42bn, £29bn) in August, fuelled by a gargantuan foreign oil bill, the shortfall is the second highest in history. The muted cheer prompted by a 0.1% rise in exports was drowned by groans over a 2.5% increase in imports.

To compound the misery the Labor Department's figures show a total of 352,000 new claims for unemployment benefit, a rise of 15,000 in a week, against a lower than expected 96,000 new vacancies in September and a jobless rate that steadfastly refuses to budge below 5.4%.

During last week's final televised debate between President George W Bush and Democrat challenger John Kerry the trade gap, especially that between the US and China, was used as a stick by Kerry to beat Bush, with accusations the president had not done enough to protect American workers from overseas competition.

The administration, on the other hand, accuses Kerry of being an economic isolationist and defends its free trade agreements.

The public will decide.

Data sourced from USA Today Online; additional content by WARC staff