A government report says the U.S. trade deficit increased significantly in July due to a surge in imports of foreign oil and autos.

The Commerce Department said Thursday the trade gap jumped 16 percent in July, from the month before, to $32 billion - exceeding market forecasts of a $27 billion deficit.  It was the biggest monthly percentage increase in the U.S. trade deficit in a decade.

U.S. imports rose 4.7 percent in July from the previous month - the largest monthly advance seen in records going back to 1992.  The main factors driving up imports included higher prices for imported oil and increased U.S. demand for foreign cars and auto parts.

U.S. exports increased by a smaller 2.2 percent over the same period.

In a separate report, the U.S. Labor Department says first-time claims for jobless benefits fell more than expected last week, a sign that companies are laying off fewer workers.

It says initial jobless claims fell to 550,000, seasonally adjusted, from an upwardly-revised 576,000 in the previous week.  Analysts expected claims to drop to 560,000.  Despite the improving data, unemployment claims remain significantly above levels associated with a healthy economy.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.