Reuters

(Reuters)

U.S. Trade Gap in December the Largest Since 2012

Politics Reuters

The U.S. trade deficit in December widened sharply to its highest level since 2012 as imports rose despite a lower energy bill, which could see the fourth-quarter growth estimate revised down.

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The Commerce Department said on Thursday the trade deficit jumped 17.1 percent to $46.6 billion, the largest since November 2012. It was the biggest percentage increase since July 2009.

November's shortfall on the trade balance was revised up to $39.8 billion from a previously reported $39.0 billion.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the trade deficit falling to $38.0 billion. When adjusted for inflation, the deficit widened to $54.7 billion from $48.7 billion in November.

December's surprise surge in the trade gap suggested a downward revision to the fourth-quarter gross domestic product estimate. The government reported last week that GDP expanded at a 2.6 percent annual rate, with trade estimated to have subtracted 1.02 percentage point from growth.

In December, imports rose 2.2 percent to $241.4 billion, with imports of non-petroleum products surging to a record high, a sign of strengthening in the domestic economy. It also reflected the strength of the U.S. dollar.

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Exports slipped 0.8 percent to $194.9 billion in December. Exports have been hurt by slowing growth in Asia and Europe, a strengthening dollar, as well as a labor dispute at U.S. West Coast ports, which has been cited by some manufacturers as causing delays in the movement of goods.

Exports to Canada and Mexico - the main U.S. trading partners - fell in December. In contrast, exports to Japan, China and the European Union rose in December.

The politically sensitive U.S.-China trade deficit fell 5.5 percent to $28.3 billion. (Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)