March 14, 2014 / 9:32 AM / 4 years ago

UK trade deficit widens as exports hit 19-month low

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s goods trade deficit widened by more than expected in January as exports fell to their lowest level in more than a year and a half, official data showed on Friday.

The Office for National Statistics said the goods deficit was 9.793 billion pounds in January.

That compared with a deficit of 7.662 billion pounds in December, when one-off items helped push the shortfall to its lowest level in nearly a year-and-half.

Economists in a Reuters poll had forecast a shortfall of 8.6 billion pounds.

Good exports fell 4 percent to 24.248 billion pounds, their lowest level since June 2012.

Britain’ overall trade deficit, including the country’s massive services industry, widened to 2.565 billion pounds from 668 million in December.

Last year’s rebound in the British economy was mostly led by consumer spending, and the Bank of England wants to see the recovery broaden out to include more exports.

Finance minister George Osborne has said he plans to introduce measures to help British exporters and encourage investment when he announces an annual budget on March 19.

The volume of goods exports in December fell by 3.8 percent in January. Imports rose by 5.8 percent.

Goods exports to other countries in the European Union fell back to 12.193 billion euros, down nearly 4 percent from December and their lowest level since October 2012.

Separate data from the ONS on Friday showed output in Britain’s construction sector rose 1.8 percent in January.

The ONS also revised construction output in the fourth to quarter to show a fall of 0.2 percent, compared with a previously reported increase of 0.2 percent. The change was not enough to change overall gross domestic product growth in the October-December period which was 0.7 percent.

Output was 5.4 percent higher than in January last year.

The construction sector has begun to benefit from a rebound in the housing market which pushed up home prices by more than 9 percent in the year to February, according to data published by lender Nationwide.

British construction output slumped after the financial crisis and was still 12.5 percent below its pre-crisis peak during the fourth quarter of last year.

New orders in the construction industry in the fourth quarter were 1.5 percent higher than in the third quarter due to a 5.2 percent increase in orders for new housing.

Britain’s government is trying to boost construction of homes which remains below the level believed to be needed to keep up with demand.

Reporting by William Schomberg and Li-mei Hoang

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