The Economy

U.S. Current Account Deficit Grows to $134.4B

The 6.1% increase in the fourth-quarter took the deficit to the highest level in 10 years and topped analysts' forecasts of a $130.0 billion shortf...
Matthew HellerMarch 28, 2019

The U.S. current account deficit widened in the fourth quarter to its highest level in 10 years and increased slightly as a percentage of gross domestic product.

The Commerce Department said the current account deficit, which measures the flow of goods, services and investments into and out of the country, rose 6.1% to $134.4 billion. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast a deficit of $130.0 billion.

The quarterly gap was the largest since the fourth quarter of 2008.

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As a percentage of GDP, the deficit increased to 2.6% from 2.5% in the July-September period. It was the largest share since the second quarter of 2012 but was still well below the peak of 6.2% of GDP in the fourth quarter of 2005.

The increase in the deficit reflected in part a 0.9% decline in exports of goods to $416.1 billion, while imports were unchanged at $649.1 billion.

For 2018 as a whole, the current account shortfall increased 8.8% to $488.5 billion, the highest level since 2008. It averaged 2.4% of GDP, the biggest share since 2012, compared to 2.3% in 2017.

In a second report on Wednesday, the Commerce Department said the trade deficit declined 14.6% to $51.1 billion in January, the largest drop since March 2018.

“[The] larger-than-expected narrowing in the overall trade deficit was a bright spot after a raft of weak data, including retail sales, manufacturing and homebuilding, had economists anticipating a sharp slowdown in growth in the first quarter,” Reuters said.

“At a minimum, the U.S. trade deficit softens some of the blow from all of the other negative figures,” said Jennifer Lee, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto.