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Last Updated: Friday, 13 February, 2004, 21:40 GMT
Huge US trade deficit hits dollar
Containers being loaded on to a ship's deck
The US is the world's biggest importer and exporter
The US trade deficit hit a record $489bn (258bn) in 2003, with a quarter of the shortfall coming in trade with China, official figures have shown.

The deficit was 17.1% larger than the previous record gap recorded in 2002.

The US economy pulled in 8.3% more imports in 2003 than 2002, while exports grew at a slower pace of 4.6%.

The news pushed the dollar to an 11-year low against the pound, and to within a cent of its all-time low against the euro, before recovering.

The euro skirted a new record high but in late deals had fallen to $1.2737, having at one point in the session touched $1.2896, just short of its record 1.2898 set on 12 January.

The pound was quoted at $1.8851, having earlier in the day hit a new 11-year high of $1.8989.

What seems to be happening is that strong US demand is trumping the weak US dollar, causing the trade deficit to widen
BMO 's Sal Guatierie

The burgeoning deficit has put downward pressure on the dollar, which could create inflationary pressure as Americans pay more for imported goods.

The monthly deficit hit a near-record $42.5bn in December, well above a median analyst forecast of $40bn.

Gary Thayer, chief economist at AG Edwards & Sons, said: "(The figures are) suggesting the decline we've seen in the dollar over the last couple of years is not having an impact.

"It suggests the dollar may still need to fall to help narrow the trade deficit. But there's a risk to higher inflation if it does."

Garment factory in China
The trading gap with China has widened even further
The dollar has fallen heavily against the euro and other currencies over the past six months, pressured by concerns that the soaring trade gap and a hefty US budget deficit could destabilise the economy.

BMO financial group senior economist Sal Guatieri said: "What seems to be happening is that strong US demand is trumping the weak US dollar, causing the trade deficit to widen.

"It probably means the US dollar has to weaken further for the trade side to contribute to economic growth through this year and as well reduce the current account deficit."

European trade

In testimony this week before Congress, Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan appeared comfortable with the dollar's decline, saying foreign companies had so far been able to absorb the impact.

He said it would also eventually help contain the huge trade surplus as foreign producers export less to the United States.

The politically sensitive deficit with China, among the world's biggest exporters, grew to $124bn from $103bn the previous year.

The deficit with the EU surged to $10.29bn from $7.35bn. With the eurozone, the gap grew to $8.19bn from $6bn.

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