- Britain's goods trade deficit widened in September to its highest since the series began in 1998 after a record jump in imports countered a tepid rise in exports, data showed on Wednesday.
Economists said the numbers indicated the crisis in the euro zone had dampened Britain's exports, and cautioned against interpreting the surge in imports as a sign of recovering domestic demand.
The Office for National Statistics said the goods trade deficit widened to some 9.8 billion pounds in September from an upwardly revised 8.6 billion pounds in August. Economists had forecast a much smaller shortfall of 8.0 billion pounds.
The rise in the deficit was driven by a 1.2 billion pound surge in imports to 34.27 billion pounds, a series high and which reflected higher demand for oil, chemicals and silver.
The jump in UK imports in September looks particularly strange given the apparent softness of domestic demand, IHS Global Insight economist Howard Archer said.
Unfortunately though, the muted exports data look less strange given weaker global growth, especially the problems in key euro zone markets, he added.
Imports of consumer goods other than cars rose by 218 million pounds on the month. Within that category, imports of works of art soared by 131 percent on the month to 400 million pounds. Imports of precious stones jumped by 227 million pounds on the month, although statisticians cautioned that this was an erratic item.
Exports, meanwhile, rose by less than 0.1 billion pounds, reflecting weaker demand from abroad for chemicals, intermediate goods and consumer goods.
Analysts noted that monthly trade figures tend to be volatile and subject to big revisions, and said they did not alter the view that the economy was in the doldrums.
It looks weird, said Peter Dixon, economist at Commerzbank. I'm inclined to treat this as a rogue figure. That surge in imports doesn't look right given what we know about what's happening in the UK, in the domestic economy, so you might see a bit of a pull-back in the October figures.
EXPORT SURGE REVISED AWAY
The ONS said there were bigger than usual changes to the August data, following a seasonal adjustment review and revised data from Britain's tax authorities -- which is the main source of data -- and resulted in August's rise in exports being revised away.
That is particularly worrying and reinforces recent surveys suggesting that a darkening global economic backdrop will hurt the recovery. The economy has barely grown in the last year and policymakers are worried that a sharp slowdown in its main trading partners could tip Britain back into recession.
The downturn in the survey measures of export orders point to further falls in exports ahead. With the euro zone problems no closer to being resolved, we continue to doubt that the UK's external sector will prevent the economy from sliding back into recession, said Vicky Redwood of Capital Economics.
The Bank of England last month resumed its quantitative easing programme with a 75 billion pound cash injection aimed at shoring up the recovery.
And many economists reckon the central bank will have to add more cash in February as the spiralling euro zone debt crisis presents a further threat to economic prospects.
The goods trade gap with non-EU countries widened to 5.7 billion pounds in September from an upwardly revised 5.1 billion pounds in August. That was the highest since December 2010 and well above forecasts for a deficit of 4.88 billion pounds.
(Editing by Anna Willard)