The US trade deficit swelled in January to its highest level in nearly a decade as oil prices rose and the world's biggest economy sold fewer aircraft, government data showed Wednesday.
The news comes amid White House furor over trade policy, with President Donald Trump's top economic advisor Gary Cohn announcing his resignation late Tuesday after losing a bruising internal battle over whether to impose punishing tariffs on steel and aluminum.
Cohn's resignation and the fear Trump will press ahead with restraints on trade have roiled global markets in recent days, although the White House on Wednesday significantly modified its position, saying Trump could allow "carve outs" for Canada and Mexico.
Wall Street opened lower Wednesday but the major indices steadily pared losses over the afternoon for a mixed close, leaving the Dow Jones Industrial Average 0.3 percent lower.
In the first month of the year, the US trade gap rose five percent over an upward-revised December to $56.6 billion, its highest level since October of 2008, overshooting analyst expectations for only a two percent increase, according to the Commerce Department. This put January up 16.2 percent over January of 2017, with exports trailing imports.
The figures also put trade on track to subtract from GDP growth in the first quarter. They also follow official reporting last month showing Trump's first year in office had the highest trade gap since the start of the global crisis in 2008.
With global investors rattled following Cohn's departure, Trump cabinet members appeared on television to make the president's case. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told CNBC the US was not "looking for a trade war."
“We're going to have sensible relations with our allies," he said.