American petroleum exports declined for the first time in three months, and the United States’ international trade balance widened by the slimmest of margins in January.

A report released by the census Friday showed that America’s trade deficit grew just $120 million in January, to $39.1 billion. Exports increased by $1.2 billion, while imports rose by $1.3 billion, yielding the smallest incremental change in the United States trade balance in over two years.

Energy made the biggest impact on both sides of the ledger. Though the United States has been running a trade deficit since 1976, a host of developments in oil and gas production has narrowed what once seemed like an unbridgeable gap.

For one, exports are surging. U.S. petroleum-related exports closed 2013 up more than 40 percent from where they started last year, an upward trend that experts are confident will continue this year.

So confident, in fact, that most economists dismissed January’s decline in exports out of hand.

“I don’t think this means the American energy boom is off,” said Tim Quinlan, an economist at Wells Fargo. “That’s a decline to where we were in December. We’re definitely still on the right track here.”

Rising oil imports played a role in the January numbers as well. Imports of energy-related petroleum products, a category that includes crude oil, leapt nearly nine percent in January, to $29 billion.

Rather than being cause for alarm, most saw the jump as business as usual. Despite the recent uptick in domestic production, most U.S. businesses still rely on foreign crude oil and gas for their operations, and January is normally a month when energy imports rise.

“It’s a seasonal thing,” said Dr. Ken Mayland, of Clearview Economics. “I’ve looked at past Januarys, and that’s not an unusual result. You often see that.”

Though energy imports rose as a whole, January’s report revealed that crude oil prices fell for a fourth consecutive month, to $90.21 a barrel. That price is nearly $4 lower than it was last January, a positive sign for the coming months.

The sheen of the month’s oil numbers obscured another batch of signs that the U.S. economy is still far from a healthy recovery.

Exports of automobiles, vehicle parts and engines declined $200 million. Foods, feeds and beverages, which had mostly been rising since September, declined more than $770 million, even on a seasonally adjusted basis.

Imports fared little better. Consumer goods, long a reliable barometer of consumer demand, declined by more than a billion dollars, or 2.2 percent, in January.

Imports of capital goods, which are key to expanding industrial production, were weak as well, despite encouraging rises in drilling and oil field equipment and telecommunications equipment. The category grew just 0.7 percent in January.

“If there’s something to be concerned about,” Tim Quinlan said, “it’s domestic demand.”