US trade deficit widens to $44.4 billion in January as exports drop and oil imports rise

The U.S. trade deficit widened in January, reflecting a big jump in oil imports and a drop in exports.

The Commerce Department says the deficit rose to $44.4 billion, an increase of 16.5 percent from December. U.S. exports dropped 1.2 percent to $184.5 billion, reflecting declines in sales to Europe, China, Japan and Brazil. Imports rose 1.8 percent to $228.9 billion as oil imports surged 12.3 percent.

Even with the wider deficit in January, economists say they think the deficit this year will narrow slightly, in part because of continued gains in U.S. energy exports. A narrower trade gap boosts growth because it means U.S. companies are earning more from overseas sales while U.S. consumers and businesses are spending less on foreign products.