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Trade Gap Widened More Than Forecast in December as Exports Fell

Feb. 6 (Bloomberg) -- The trade deficit in the U.S. widened more than forecast in December as exports ended a record year on a soft note.

The trade gap expanded 12 percent to $38.7 billion, figures from the Commerce Department showed today in Washington, compared to a median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg that called for a $36 billion gap. Exports showed a broad-based decline after surging in November, while imports edged up on rising consumer demand.

U.S. sales of petroleum products to foreign customers climbed to a record in December, capping their best year ever, continuing a drive toward fuel independence as domestic production improves. At the same time, the world’s largest economy will probably pickup faster than many of its counterparts, indicating imports will also climb.

In 2014, “there are going to be two main factors at play,” Richard Moody, chief economist at Regions Financial Corp. in Birmingham, Alabama, said before the report. “If we get a better pace of growth in consumer spending, then that would argue for a faster pace in imports. On the export side, I think energy is going to be a driver.”

That means that “on net, trade should be fairly neutral this year” for U.S. growth, Moody said.

The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of 74 economists projected the deficit would come in at $36 billion. Estimates ranged from $31 billion to $42.5 billion. The Commerce Department revised the November gap to $34.6 billion from an initially reported $34.3 billion.

Other Reports

Other reports today showed claims for jobless benefits dropped last week and worker productivity climbed in the fourth quarter.

For all of 2013, the trade gap narrowed 11.8 percent to $471.5 billion, the smallest since 2009.

Exports decreased 1.8 percent in December from the prior month to $191.3 billion, as sales of everything from industrial supplies such as chemicals to autos, consumer and capital goods retreated. The percentage decrease was the biggest since October 2012.

Imports rose 0.3 percent to $230 billion in December, reflecting increasing purchases of crude oil and consumer goods such as cell phones.

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