U.K. Trade Deficit Points to Export Drag in Fourth Quarter

Britain’s trade deficit widened in the fourth quarter as exports fell, underscoring the economy’s reliance on domestic spending.

The value of imported goods and services outstripped exports by 10.3 billion pounds ($15 billion) compared with 8.6 billion pounds in the third quarter, the Office for National Statistics said in London on Tuesday.

In December alone, the deficit narrowed to 2.7 billion pounds, with the shortfall in goods falling to 9.9 billion pounds. Both were narrower than economists forecast.

The figures put a spotlight on Britain’s unbalanced economy, which is being driven by consumer spending and the dominant services sector as global turmoil holds back exports and manufacturing. Bank of England officials indicated last week they are in no hurry to raise the benchmark interest rate from a record-low 0.5 percent.

Total exports fell 0.8 percent in the fourth quarter, with sales of both goods and services declining in December alone. Imports of goods dropped 4.8 percent on the month, largely reflecting nonmonetary gold. Falling oil prices saw oil imports decline 11 percent to 1.9 billion pounds, the lowest level since February 2009.

Net trade knocked 1 percentage point off growth in the third quarter and looks set to have been a drag again in the fourth. Gross domestic product estimates on Feb. 25 will include volume-based figures for trade, investment and private consumption.

In 2015, the trade deficit widened to 34.7 billion pounds, the most since 2010. At 125 billion pounds, the goods-trade deficit was the largest on record. Trade last provided a spur to the economy in 2011.

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