* Record $8.4 billion Dec deficit seen barely shrinking in Jan
* Foreign direct investment at $5.4 billion and falling
* FDI of $65.27 billion in 2012 covered current account deficit
By Tiago Pariz and Alonso Soto
BRASILIA, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Brazil’s current account deficit widened to the biggest on record in December and will barely shrink in January, according to the central bank, as weak demand for raw material exports erodes its traditional trade surplus.
The current account deficit jumped to $8.413 billion in December, the biggest monthly shortfall since at least 1980, central bank data showed on Wednesday, exceeding all estimates in a Reuters poll forecasting a $6.5 billion deficit.
Accelerating imports and more corporate profits sent overseas will also contribute to an estimated $8.3 billion current account gap in January, Tulio Maciel, the bank’s head of economic research told reporters.
An increasingly unequal balance of payments also raises the question of whether Brazil can continue to cover the shortfall with foreign direct investment, whose growth has stagnated since a jump in late 2010.
Foreign direct investment more than covered Brazil’s current account deficit in 2012, but has come up short in recent months. FDI in Brazil totaled $5.358 billion in December and will likely slip to $4.5 billion in January, Maciel said.
The last time foreign direct investment failed to cover Brazil’s annual current account deficit was in 2001, amid difficult structural reforms and widespread energy rationing.
Still, Brazil has more than $378 billion in international reserves, which could be used to finance its balance of payments.
Brazil attracted $65.272 billion in foreign direct investment in 2012, down slightly from $66.6 billion in 2011 but enough to cover a current account deficit of $54.246 billion last year.
Foreign investment has remained steady in Brazil despite a sharp economic slowdown since mid-2011, as investors see more opportunities in the South American giant than in a recession-hit Europe or a slowly recovering United States.
Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff has also announced a series of measures to lure tens of billions of dollars in private investment to refurbish decaying airports, ports, roads and railways.
As the host of the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament, the 2016 Olympics and holder of some of the world’s largest oil reserves, Brazil is expected to keep attracting foreign capital in coming years.
However, a weak recovery and growing state intervention in sectors from the auto industry to electric utilities could erode investors’ confidence in the world’s No. 6 economy, some analysts say.
The anemic global economy is also hurting activity in Brazil and pinching demand for exports.
Brazil, a major producer of soy and iron ore, posted its smallest annual trade surplus in a decade last year, falling 35 percent to $19.44 billion from the year before.
In the first three weeks of this year, the country had a trade deficit of $2.7 billion, leading some analysts to predict the worst January print on record.
A deteriorating trade balance is driving growth of the current account deficit, part of the balance of payments that measures a country’s foreign transactions.
Brazil’s current account deficit in November was $6.265 billion, the central bank said last month.