NEW YORK, JULY 15 -- The dollar fell sharply in hectic trading today on news that the U.S. trade deficit for May had widened beyond market expectations.

Gold prices moved higher. Republic National Bank in New York reported a late bid for gold of $453.25 an ounce, up $6.10 from Tuesday's late bid.

The Commerce Department's report that the deficit had widened to $14.4 billion sharply differed from the $11 billion rumored in the currency markets a day earlier. The April trade imbalance was $13.32 billion.

Hints that some central banks may have intervened kept the currency from plunging into a free-fall in heavy trading, traders said.

Dan Holland, an assistant vice president at Discount Corp., said rumors of U.S. intervention supported the dollar at the 148.50 level against the Japanese yen, where it held for most of the afternoon.

"It seems the central banks have put a stop to the wild fluctuations," one trader said.

Comments from administration officials that the larger-than-expected figure has not entirely darkened the overall trade picture were greeted skeptically on the trading floor. "There were a lot of snickers," one dealer said.

Trading was hectic, but dealers seemed to be taking the news in stride by afternoon. They said it appeared the dollar would remain in a narrow trading band until the trade figure is digested.

Stephen Flanagan, an assistant vice president at Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co., was even more optimistic. "We can't really say the whole dollar's uptrend is over; it's just a correction that's been long overdue," he said.

Holland noted there was some unusually late selling out of Japan early in the day. "Because of the magnitude of the impact the numbers would have on the market, there was some desire on the part of the bank dealers to be around when the figures came out," he said.

When trading moved to Europe, news of the deficit sent the dollar plunging against all major currencies except the Canadian dollar. "The reaction to the numbers was to be expected," said a dealer in Frankfurt.

The dollar fell below the 150 level against the Japanese yen for the first time this week, closing in New York at 148.85, down from 151.25 Tuesday.

In Tokyo, where trading ends before Europe's business day begins, the dollar rose to a closing 151.23 yen from Tuesday's 150.60. Later, in London, it was quoted at a lower rate of 148.70 yen.

In New York the British pound was quoted at $1.6355, up from $1.61135. In London, the dollar also fell against the British pound. It cost $1.6310 to buy one pound, up from $1.6112 late Tuesday

Other late dollar rates in New York included: 1.8290 West German marks, down from 1.8520; 1.52230 Swiss francs, down from 1.5430; 6.0965 French francs, down from 6.1615 and 1.32325 Canadian dollars, up from 1.31925