The U.S. trade deficit increased by 15.1 percent in May to $50.2 billion, the highest level since October 2008, the Commerce Department said Tuesday.

In April, the trade deficit had been $43.6 billion and most analysts had calculated that it would amount to $44.5 billion in May.

In May, U.S. imports increased by 2.6 percent to $225.1 billion, while exports fell 0.5 percent to $174.9 billion.

The trade deficit for the first five months of the year totaled $234.65 billion, compared to $203.28 billion during the same period in 2010.

The increase in oil prices to levels not seen in the United States since mid-2008 has erased the modest reduction in the trade deficit registered since the end of last year.

Tuesday's report shows that the average price of crude oil imported into the United States rose in May by $5.52 per barrel to $108.70.

The bill for U.S. oil imports rose from $26.03 billion in April to $29.92 billion in May.

The weakening of the dollar against other major currencies, which facilitates U.S. exports, and the recent fall in international oil prices could improve the trade balance.