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America’s goods and services trade deficit recorded a near-double-digit sequential increase in January to hit $48.49 billion. That monthly total was the highest since March, 2012’s $50.22 billion. Combined goods and services exports inched up sequentially to $192.04 billion – their best performance since December, 2014’s $197.46 billion. But total imports grew some four times faster, to $240.59 billion. That total also was the highest since December, 2014 ($241.21 billion).

America’s pre-inflation oil trade deficit spurred much of the total trade gap’s January rise, soaring by nearly 25 percent sequentially to $7.56 billion – the highest level since July, 2015’s $8.01 billion. An 18.37 percent surge in imports to $16.87 billion, the highest total since January, 2015’s $19.63 billion produced much of this result. But the huge, chronic U.S. manufacturing trade deficit also shot up in January – from $69.52 billion to $75.54 billion. And following a record December monthly plunge in its volatile trade balance, the shortfall in high tech goods more than doubled in January, to $8.46 billion.

The massive and longstanding American merchandise deficit with China rebounded by nearly 13 percent in January from a nine-month low to reach $31.30 billion. The main culprit – the biggest decrease in monthly goods exports to China (13.37 percent) since last January’s 18.87 percent plunge. The goods gap with NAFTA partner Canada jumped by more than 68 percent on month, to $3.62 billion. And the merchandise deficit with free trade partner Korea more than doubled, from a nearly two-year low, to $2.59 billion. Yet the U.S. merchandise deficit with Germany — whose big global surpluses have just been targeted by the Trump administration — hit its lowest level ($4.88 billion) since last February ($4.51 billion), and that with Mexico shrank by just over 10 percent, to $3.95 billion. That was its lowest level since July, 2015 ($3.71 billion).

Most troubling, however, the Made in Washington trade deficit – the gap in goods other than oil that is heavily affected by U.S. trade policy – rose by more than five percent on month to hit $61.43 billion. That total, the highest since March, 2015’s $61.90 billion, signals that the trade drag on the already sluggish current American economic recovery will increase further in the first quarter of this year.

Here are selected highlights of the latest monthly (January) trade balance figures released this morning by the Census Bureau:

>In January, the U.S. trade deficit hit $48.49 billion – its highest monthly level since March, 2012’s $50.22 billion.

>The January total represented a 9.56 percent increase over the December total, which was adjusted only fractionally downward, to $44.26 billion.

>Combined goods and services exports of $192.09 billion represented a 0.56 percent increase over the upwardly revised December figure of $191.01 billion – and the highest monthly result since December, 2014’s $197.46 billion total.

>But combined goods and services imports grew by 2.26 percent in January, from an upwardly revised December level of $225.27 billion to $240.59 billion. That total was also the highest since December, 2014 ($241.21 billion).

>Much of the January trade deficit increase resulted from a 24.72 percent monthly pop in the current-dollar U.S. oil trade deficit. The $7.56 billion total was the highest since July, 2015’s $8.01 billion.

>Pre-inflation oil exports increased by 13.68 percent on month in January, from $8.20 billion to $9.32 billion. But imports surged by 18.37 percent – from $14.26 billion to $16.87 billion. That was their highest total since January, 2015’s $19.63 billion.

>But January’s poor U.S. trade performance was also fueled by an 8.66 percent increase in the massive and chronic manufacturing trade gap, from $69.52 billion to $755.54 billion.

>Manufactures exports sank by 7.02 percent sequentially in January, from $89.36 billion to $83.09 billion. But manufactures imports dipped by only 0.16 percent, from $158.88 billion to $158.62 billion.

>Within manufacturing, the high tech goods deficit worsened dramatically in January, as the monthly shortfall rebounded from a record (71.78 percent) sequential drop in December, to $3.82 billion, to $8.46 billion – i.e., a more-than-doubling.

>U.S. high tech goods exports plummeted in January by 18.93 percent – from $32.18 billion in December to $26.06 billion. Imports, however, declined by only 4.11 percent, from $36.00 billion to $34.52 billion.

>The wider January trade deficits in manufacturing and high tech goods were no doubt linked to the 12.78 percent increase in the American merchandise trade shortfall with China – from $27.76 billion in December (the lowest such figure since last April’s $24.31 billion) to $31.30 billion.

>U.S. goods exports to China fell by 13.37 percent on month in January – from $11.63 billion to $10.07 billion. That was the biggest sequential decrease since last January’s 18.87 percent. U.S. goods imports from China hit $41.38 billion – a 5.07 percent rise from December’s $39.38 billion.

>America’s merchandise deficit with Canada skyrocketed in January by 68.37 percent, from $2.15 billion in December to $3.62 billion. U.S. goods exports to this North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) partner fell 2.35 percent on month, but imports advanced by 4.17 percent.

>The goods deficit with bilateral free trade partner Korea more than doubled in January, from $1.20 billion (the lowest such total since February, 2014’s $1.08 billion) to $2.59 billion. America’s merchandise exports to Korea ticked up by 0.27 percent on month, but its merchandise imports were up 8.91 percent.

>Since the bilateral trade deal went into effect in March, 2012, the U.S. merchandise deficit with Korea has roughly quintupled on a monthly basis.

>By contrast, even though the Trump administration has recently criticized Germany’s burgeoning global trade surpluses, the American merchandise deficit with that country actually shrank on month by 8.72 percent to $4.88 billion.  That was its lowest level since February, 2014 ($4.51 billion).

>Similarly, the United States’ merchandise deficit with its other NAFTA partner, Mexico, fell by 10.13 percent, from $4.39 billion to $3.95 billion. That’s its lowest level since July, 2015 ($3.71 billion).

>At the same time, the 5.21 percent monthly rise in the January real non-oil U.S. goods deficit of $61.43 billion – the biggest such total since March, 2015’s $61.90 billion – spells trouble for American economic growth in the first quarter of this year. This Made in Washington deficit – which strips out areas like energy and services, which are only slightly impacted by American trade policies – influences the most closely followed gross domestic product figures, which are inflation-adjusted.

>Although the final fourth quarter 2016 results are not yet available, preliminary figures so far show that the strong growth of this policy-shaped trade deficit has slowed the cumulative pace of the nation’s historically weak economic recovery by fully 20.56 percent – or $434.78 billion.

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