The US trade deficit widened more than expected in January as fuel oil exports slumped and crude oil imports rose.
That is according to a US government report.
The monthly trade gap totalled $44.4 billion, higher than a consensus estimate of $42.6 billion from analysts surveyed before the Commerce Department report.
The department also lowered its estimate of the December trade gap to $38.1 billion, from $38.5 billion previously.
The report came as President Barack Obama prepares to meet Republicans and Democrats on the House of Representatives Budget Committee in an attempt to bridge differences on the nation's pressing fiscal issues.
At issue is the stalemate over the US budget and how to rein in growth of the $16.7 trillion federal debt.
Mr Obama and fellow Democrats want to narrow the fiscal gap with spending cuts and tax increases, while Republicans oppose raising taxes and want to do it all with cuts.
Fall in Americans seeking unemployment aid
The number of people seeking US unemployment aid fell to a seasonally adjusted 340,000 last week, driving down the four-week average to its lowest level in five years.
The drop is a positive sign ahead of tomorrow’s report on February job growth.
Applications for benefits fell 7,000 in the week ended March 2, the Labour Department has said. That is near five-year lows reached in January.
The four-week average, a less volatile measure, dropped to 348,750. That is the lowest since March 2008, just a few months into the recession.
Weekly applications are a proxy for layoffs. When they fall, it suggests that companies are shedding fewer jobs. More hiring may follow.
The decline adds to other evidence that hiring may have been better last month than economists forecast.
Analysts predict that employers added 152,000 jobs, according to a survey by FactSet. That is about the same as in January. The unemployment rate is projected to fall to 7.8% from 7.9%.
"The improvement is still gradual, but at least things are moving in the right direction," Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics, said in a note to clients.
The economy generated an average of 200,000 jobs a month from November through January. That was up from about 150,000 in the previous three months. In January they added 157,000.
Several reports this week suggest hiring remained healthy last month. Payroll services provider ADP said Wednesday that businesses added 198,000 jobs in February, above most analysts' expectations. And January's hiring was revised higher by 23,000 to 215,000.