US trade deficit widens in November due to surge in imports
(Reuters) – The U.S. trade deficit unexpectedly widened in November due to a surge in imports, pointing to a sharp slowdown in economic growth during the last three months of 2012.
Still, the trade gap’s growth was driven by imports of consumer goods, a potentially positive sign for household spending if the gains in imports were not a one-time rebound following a disruptive storm.
America’s trade deficit widened 16 percent in November to $48.7 billion, the Commerce Department said on Friday.
Analysts were expecting the deficit to shrink to $41.3 billion, and the report led a host of economists to trim their estimates of economic growth in the fourth quarter.
“This is not good news for the fourth-quarter GDP growth,” said Peter Cardillo, an economist at Rockwell Global Capital in New York.
When a country imports more than it exports, cash is sucked out of its economy, subtracting from gross domestic product.
JPMorgan cut its forecast for fourth quarter GDP growth to a 0.8 percent annual rate from 1.5 percent. The economy grew at an above-trend 3.1 percent pace in the third quarter.
The trade deficit was the widest since April. Imports surged 3.8 percent, the biggest gain in eight months.
Imports of consumer goods rose by $4.6 billion, while imports of petroleum products fell by $870 million.
That might point to firmer consumer demand, which is the main engine of the U.S. economy.
“The good news is the strength in imports is a sign that the U.S. economy is buying imports,” said Cary Leahey, an economist at Decision Economics in New York. “Whatever the fourth quarter GDP prints, it will understate the momentum.”
At the same time, some of the strength in imports of consumer goods could prove temporary, said Peter Newland, an economist at Barclays. Some U.S. ports closed in late October due to a mammoth storm, which disrupted trade and hit imports that month.
Also, the risk remains that imported goods could languish on businesses’ shelves if purchasing managers are misreading consumer demand.
U.S. stock index futures opened lower and the dollar weakened against the euro.