US current account trade deficit expected to widen slightly in October-December quarter

Economic IndicatorsAssociated Press

The Commerce Department reports on the U.S. current account trade deficit for the October-December quarter. The report will be issued at 8:30 a.m. EDT Thursday.

DEFICIT UP: The expectation is that the deficit will rise 2.7 percent to $103 billion in the fourth quarter, according to a survey of economists by data firm FactSet.

Continue Reading Below

TRADE GAP: The current account deficit widened slightly to $100.3 billion in the July-September quarter.

The current account is the broadest measure of trade. It covers not only goods and services but also investment flows.

A widening trade deficit was a drag on the economy in the final three months of the year, subtracting 1.1 percentage point from growth, helping to slow overall growth, as measured by the gross domestic product to just 2.2 percent, down from growth at a 5 percent rate in the July-September quarter.

Economists say the trade gap will widen further in 2015 as a rising value of the dollar cuts into foreign sales by American producers. The stronger dollar makes U.S. products more expensive in foreign markets.

The overall economy, however, is expected to do better this year as strong employment growth boosts incomes and consumer spending.

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve kept a key interest rate unchanged near a record low of zero, where it has been for the past six years. However, the Fed modified its policy statement by no longer saying it planned to be "patient" in deciding when to raise interest rates.

But Fed Chair Janet Yellen told reporters that just because the Fed had dropped the word "patient" did not mean the central bank would now become "impatient." The Fed did say it did not expect to raise rates at its next meeting in April but many economists believe the first rate hike could come as early as the Fed's June meeting.