An ONS blunder means the trade deficit is £6bn bigger than we realised

 
Francesca Washtell
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The error originated from how items in a category called "erratics", including ships, is accounted for (Source: Getty)

A blunder by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) means the UK's trade deficit was £6bn bigger than we realised, it admitted last night.

The so-called processing error by the ONS means the trade deficit was £17bn in the third quarter of the year, up from the £11bn it had originally mooted.

Read more: The UK trade deficit widened in September as sterling failed to impact

The statistics agency’s mistake originated from the way it factored in trade in gold, which is part of a category called “erratics” that also includes aircrafts, ships and silver.

As the “erratics” series is volatile, “a total trade series that excludes erratics may provide a better guide to the emerging trade picture”, the ONS said.

However, the current account deficit, a wider measure of trade, was revised downwards for the second quarter of the year, from 5.9 per cent to 5.4 per cent.

Read more: Only five EU members have more jobs linked to UK trade than vice versa

“It’s a difficult area of the economy to measure, in fairness to the ONS, but these are big revisions and you get this unease in drawing firm conclusions on the external position of the UK,” Investec economist Philip Shaw said.

The agency painted a less welcoming picture of foreign transactions since the Brexit vote, widening the deficit in the three months to the end of September.

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