US trade deficit jumps to 5-year high of $48.5 billion

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The U.S. trade deficit jumped in January to the highest level in nearly five years as a flood of mobile phones and other consumer products widened America’s trade gap with China. The result underscores the challenges facing President Donald Trump in fulfilling a campaign pledge to reduce America’s trade deficits.

The deficit in January rose 9.6 percent to $48.5 billion, up from a December deficit of $44.3 billion, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday. It was the largest monthly gap since a deficit of $50.2 billion in March 2012.

U.S. exports edged up a slight 0.6 percent to $192.1 billion, helped by stronger auto sales. But that was swamped by a 2.3 percent surge in imports to $240.6 billion, led by mobile phones, oil and foreign-made cars.

During the campaign, Trump pledged to attack America’s persistent trade deficits, which he blamed for the loss of millions of good-paying factory jobs. He has threatened to slap punitive tariffs on imports from China, Mexico and other nations he has accused of trading unfairly. But economists worry that Trump’s tough talk could spark all-out trade wars in which foreign nations retaliate by boosting their tariffs on American goods.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, a long-time critic of China’s trade practices, told an economists’ group on Monday that reducing America’s trade deficits would deliver stronger economic growth and improve national security.

For January, the U.S. deficit with China increased 12.8 percent to $31.3 billion, the highest level since September. The figure reflects a big rise in imports of mobile phones, clothing, televisions, toys and games.

American exporters have struggled over the past two years as a rising dollar has made their goods more expensive and therefore less competitive in overseas markets.

Economists believe if the dollar stabilizes this year, export growth should rebound, reflecting in part stronger economic growth in many of America’s major export markets.

Andrew Hunter, U.S. economist for Capital Economics, said that the big increase in the deficit in January likely signals that trade will drag overall growth in the first quarter. But he said the impact wouldn’t be as severe as in the fourth quarter, when trade trimmed growth by 1.7 percentage points.

And brighter days may be ahead.

“With the headwind from the dollar’s prior appreciation having eased and global growth picking up quite sharply, the outlook for exports is better now than it has been in some time,” Hunter said.

The trade deficit is the difference between imports and exports. A rising deficit is a drag on overall economic growth because it means more products are being produced for domestic consumption from overseas.

The trade deficit is expected to trim overall economic growth by around one-half percentage point this year. Many economists are looking for the U.S. economy to grow between 2 percent to 2.5 percent in 2017, up from anemic 1.6 percent growth in 2016.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

Nuno Taborda
Former Rolls Royce executive to lead Everett aerospace firm

magniX, which builds electric aircraft motors, has hired Nuno Taborda as its next CEO.

Janette Burk and Timur Keskinturk are fighting to keep their coffee shop location in Alderwood Mall. Photographed in Seattle, Washington on May 23, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
A Turkish café served coffee next to Starbucks. They were told to move.

After years, Kismet Turkish Cafe Bakery’s owners say they were told to relocate in Alderwood mall due to a nearby Starbucks kiosk.

Epic Ford on the corner of 52nd Street and Evergreen Way in Everett is closed. The dealership has been in business for more than 50 years. (Janice Podsada / The Herald)
After 50 years, Everett’s Epic Ford dealership closes shop

It opened in 1971, when gas guzzling muscle cars like the Ford Mustang still ruled the road.

Dan Bates / The Herald
When Seattle Genetics founder, Clay Siegall lost his father while in college, he switched from studying for an MD to studying for a PhD., and a goal to treat cancer patients.  His efforts are paying off in lives.
Bothell biotech CEO resigns after domestic-violence allegation

Clay Siegall co-founded Seagen, which develops therapies for cancer patients. He’s accused of attacking his wife.

FILE - A sign at a Starbucks location in Havertown, Pa., is seen April 26, 2022. Starbucks says it will pay travel expenses for U.S. employees to access abortion or gender-confirmation procedures if those services aren't available within 100 miles of a worker’s home. The Seattle coffee chain says, Monday, May 16, 2022, the benefit will also be available to dependents of employees enrolled in its health care coverage. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, file)
Starbucks will cover travel for workers seeking abortions

Amazon and Tesla also will provide the benefit. Walmart and Facebook have stayed silent.

A barista pours steamed milk into a red paper cup while making an espresso drink at a Starbucks coffee shop in the Pike Place Market, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015, in Seattle. It's as red as Santa's suit, a poinsettia blossom or a loud Christmas sweater. Yet Starbucks' minimalist new holiday coffee cup has set off complaints that the chain is making war on Christmas. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Interfaith group asks Starbucks to drop vegan milk surcharge

They say the practice amounts to a tax on people who have embraced plant-based lifestyles.

FILE - In this Monday, March 1, 2021 file photo, The first Alaska Airlines passenger flight on a Boeing 737-9 Max airplane takes off on a flight to San Diego from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle. A Boeing pilot involved in testing the 737 Max jetliner was indicted Thursday, Oct. 14,2021 by a federal grand jury on charges of deceiving safety regulators who were evaluating the plane, which was later involved in two deadly crashes. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Alaska Airlines to keep canceling flights at high level for weeks

Flight cancellations since April will continue. The chaos has been damaging for Seattle’s hometown airline.

FILE - An airplane flies past the Boeing logo on the company's headquarters in Chicago, on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2001. Boeing Co., a leading defense contractor and one of the world's two dominant manufacturers of airline planes, is expected to move its headquarters from Chicago to the Washington, D.C., area, according to two people familiar with the matter. The decision could be announced as soon as later Thursday, May 5, 2022, according to one of the people. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Boeing expected to move headquarters from Chicago to DC area

The move would put Boeing executives close to their key customer, the Pentagon, and the FAA.

This 3D rendering shows Sila's 6000-foot facility in Moses Lake, to be used to manufacture lithium-ion anode battery materials. (Business Wire)
New factory in Moses Lake will bring hundreds of new jobs

The plant will manufacture lithium-ion anode battery materials for cars and cellphones.

Dr. David Kirtley at the new Helion headquarters, Antares, in Everett, Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022  (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Helion Energy: New Everett company has the sun in its eyes

The firm is the winner of a new award by Economic Alliance Snohomish County, called Opportunity Lives Here.

Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring is this year's winner of the Henry M. Jackson Award given by Economic Alliance Snohomish County. Photographed in Marysville, Washington on April 25, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Jon Nehring: Longtime Marysville mayor who’s nurtured growth

He’s helped steer the city’s transformation and is winner of the Jackson Award by Economic Alliance Snohomish County.

Monti Ackerman, recipient of the John Fluke Award, is pictured Thursday, April 28, 2022, outside his office in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Monti Ackerman: A passionate volunteer and calculator whiz

The Fortive executive is the winner of this year’s Fluke Award by Economic Alliance Snohomish County.