U.S. current account gap hits 14-year low in fourth quarter

WASHINGTON Wed Mar 19, 2014 8:39am EDT

A U.S. flag flies at the Port of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California, May 30, 2012. REUTERS/David McNew

A U.S. flag flies at the Port of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California, May 30, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/David McNew

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. current account deficit tumbled to a 14-year low in the fourth quarter as exports touched a record high, a government report showed on Wednesday.

The Commerce Department said the current account gap, which measures the flow of goods, services and investments into and out of the country, narrowed to $81.1 billion.

That was the smallest since the third quarter of 1999 and followed a revised $96.4 billion gap in the third quarter.

It represented 1.9 percent of gross domestic product, the smallest share since the third quarter of 1997. That was down from 2.3 percent in the July-September period.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the current account deficit narrowing to $88 billion in the final three months of 2013 from a previously reported $94.84 billion in the prior period.

For all of 2013, the current account deficit averaged 2.3 percent of GDP, the smallest since 1997.

Economists expect the deficit to narrow further as an inventory correction weighs on imports. A decline in petroleum imports as the United States ramps up domestic production is also seen helping the current account.

The shortfall on the current account has shrunk from a peak of 6.2 percent of GDP in the fourth quarter of 2005, in part because of a significant increase in the volume of oil exports.

In the fourth quarter, exports of goods and services rose 2.5 percent to $785.2 billion, while imports rose only 0.7 percent.

The surplus on income rose to $64.4 billion from $59.1 billion in the third quarter. Net unilateral transfers fell to $31.6 billion from $34.0 billion.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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