Trade deficit reaches 10-year high despite Trump's tariffs and tough talk

The U.S. trade deficit rose to a 10-year high in October, the Commerce Department said Thursday, despite a raft of tariffs that President Trump has instituted with the stated purpose of narrowing the gap.

The news comes as stock markets have been rattled by increased fears that Trump would escalate trade tensions with China rather than reaching some sort of truce. A trade war would take wind out of the sails of the U.S. economy, which received a boost in 2018 from the large Republican tax cut.

On Tuesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average tanked nearly 800 points after Trump declared himself a " Tariff Man."

Trump has long stoked fears of a U.S. trade deficit and boasted that his tougher trade policies would narrow the gap.

"When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win," Trump tweeted back in March.

Yet despite the Trump tariffs, the U.S. trade deficit has has ballooned for five months in a row, growing 1.7 percent to $55.5 billion last month, which was the highest level since October 2008.

There are multiple possible explanations for the increase in U.S. imports. One is that the dollar is stronger, making foreign goods effectively cheaper for American consumers. In addition, U.S. economic growth has increased demand for consumer goods, many of which are made overseas. Also, some American business could be stocking up on goods now in anticipation of possible future tariffs.

At the same time, the report shows that Trump's trade policies are hurting exports. China slapped retaliatory tariffs on soybeans, and a dropoff in soybean sales was a major contributor to the overall fall in exports.

Trade has been the issue on which Trump has broken most significantly with the traditional views of his party and with a broad consensus of economists. He been consistently dishonest about how tariffs and trade deficits work, has spooked markets, and undermined the economic benefits of his tax and regulatory agenda. All of this, we were told, was to narrow the trade deficit. Yet he clearly isn't even accomplishing that.

[Also read: Trump shrugs off future debt crisis: ‘I won’t be here’]