The U.S. trade deficit widened in December after hitting a four-year low in November, the Commerce Department said Thursday. But for 2013 the gap reached its lowest point since 2009 as exports rose to a record.
Analysts said the larger-than-expected trade deficit for December would likely reduce estimates of growth in the October-December quarter. The government had initially estimated fourth-quarter growth at a 3.2 percent annual rate. But economists at Barclays say the bigger December gap could reduce that estimate to a 2.8 percent rate.
The monthly trade deficit rose to $38.7 billion in December, a 12 percent increase over November. Exports slipped 1.8 percent to $191.3 billion. Imports rose 0.3 percent to $230 billion.
For all of 2013, the deficit dropped 11.8 percent to $471.5 billion. That was the lowest level since the Great Recession caused the deficit to shrink in 2009. U.S. exports rose 2.8 percent as an improving global economy benefited American manufacturers. An energy production boom also lifted U.S. petroleum exports to a record. Imports dipped 0.1 percent.
A smaller trade deficit can boost economic growth. U.S. manufacturers gain from rising export sales while U.S. consumers are buying fewer foreign-made products.
A domestic energy boom has boosted exports and reduced America's dependence on foreign oil. U.S. petroleum exports were up 10.9 percent in 2013 to an all-time high of $137 billion. Imports were down 11 percent to $369.3 billion.
By country, the United States ran another record trade deficit with China: $318.4 billion for the year, an increase of 1 percent from 2012. The United States has recorded its largest trade deficit with China each year since 2000.-- AP