U.S. Trade Gap Swells as Record Imports Offset Export Gains

The U.S. trade deficit widened more than expected in January as demand for oil rose despite higher prices, pushing imports to a record high, the Commerce Department reported on Friday. The trade gap grew more than 4 percent to $52.6 billion, the highest since October 2008. The department also raised its December trade gap estimate to $50.4 billion from its previous figure of $48.8 billion.

Imports rose 2.1 percent in January to a record $233.4 billion, with goods imports reaching their highest level since July 2008, and stronger demand boosting imports of services, autos, capital goods and food, feeds, and beverages all to record highs. China accounted for a large share of the gain, with imports from that country rising 4.7 percent to $34.4 billion. And while the average price for imported oil fell slightly to $103.81 per barrel, it still remained well above the January 2011 level of $84.34.

Exports grew 1.4 percent in January to $180.8 billion, led by record exports of services. Exports of autos and capital goods also hit record highs, with growth led by exports to Mexico and Japan as shipments to China and the European Union declined. The trade deficit with China swelled 12.5 percent to $26.0 billion, accounting for more than half of U.S. trade deficit in January. The trade gap with China set an annual record last year of more than $295 billion.

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Knapp at staff.writers@wallstcheatsheet.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Damien Hoffman at editors@wallstcheatsheet.com