The U.S balance of payments, an important barometer of the nation's international economic standing, set a record $4.6 billion deficit in the second quarter, the Commerce Department reported yesterday.

The size of the deficit was not a surprise, economists said. The previous high for red ink in the current account ledger was $4.46 billion set in the first quarter.

The current account measures money exchanged in trade, tourism and service transactions with other countries, plus government payments abroad.

A rapid increase in oil imports in April and May, which then declined in June, boosed the trade deficit to $7.9 billion for the quarter. This was partially offset by a surplus in new service receipts of $4.8 billion. The service income include profits by Americans on U.S. investments overseas. U.S. payments abroad during the quarter were off by more than $1.2 billion.

For all of last year, the current account deficit was only $1.43 billion. Administration officials have been forecasting a 1977 deficit of nearly $12 billion.

The flow of money abroad in trade and other transactions has caused growing concern in the U.S. about its effect on the value of the dollar in foreign exchange markets.