The U.S. trade deficit surprisingly surged in January. Even more surprising is the fact that this surge is not traceable to a rise in oil prices, as the value of that commodity actually fell during the month. Since oil prices have risen dramatically during February and March I expect the next current accounts report to be a doozy.
A surge in imports of consumer goods pushed the U.S. trade deficit to a wider-than-expected $58.3 billion in January, the second biggest on record, the government said on Friday.
The Commerce Department said U.S. exports rose 0.4 percent to a record $100.8 billion, but a 1.9 percent jump in imports, which also hit a record at $159.1 billion, swamped the export gain.
Wall Street economists had expected the trade gap to widen slightly to $56.5 billion from December’s originally reported $56.4 billion shortfall. December’s deficit was revised to $55.7 billion.
Some analysts had expected a rise in oil prices to contribute to a widening in the U.S. trade shortfall, but the department’s oil price measure actually slipped to $35.35 a barrel, its slowest level since July, from $36.63 in December.
The oil price drop pulled the overall value of oil imports down, although any relief may be short-lived as benchmark crude prices have recently topped $55 a barrel.