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Trade deficit in goods soars amid tariff battle

CNBC logo CNBC 2/27/2019 Jeff Cox

The U.S. trade deficit in goods jumped to end 2018 amid a jump in imports, a move that could cause fourth-quarter economic growth measures to be lowered, according an advanced look from the Census Bureau on Wednesday.

December saw a $79.5 billion goods deficit, up 12.8 percent from the $70.5 billion in November. The move came amid a $4 billion decline in exports, to $135.7 billion, and a $5 billion increase in imports, to $215.2 billion.

The Census report does not include services.

Trade deficits continued to grow throughout the year for the U.S. despite President Donald Trump's aids to curb the shortfall through tariffs. The White House and China are in the middle of negotiations aimed at beating a March 1 deadline after which more aggressive tariffs could take effect. Trump, however, said it's unlikely the U.S. would amp up the tariffs if the deadline isn't met.

Wednesday's numbers could lead economists to trim their estimates for fourth-quarter GDP. Expectations currently are for growth to come in around 1.8 percent, according to the Atlanta Fed, while CNBC's Rapid Update estimate is at 2 percent. Trade deficits subtract from GDP.

The quarterly calculation, though, could get a boost from inventories, which rose 1.1 percent at the wholesale level and 0.9 percent in retail, according to the advanced estimate.

The government will release its preliminary fourth-quarter GDP estimate Thursday morning.

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