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Balance of payments

The balance of payments, also known as balance of international payments and abbreviated BoP, of a country is the record of all economic transactions between the
residents of the country and the rest of the world in a particular period (over a quarter of a year or more commonly
over a year). These transactions are made by individuals,
rms and government bodies. Thus the balance of payments includes all external visible and non-visible transactions of a country . It represents a summation of countrys current demand and supply of the claims on foreign
currencies and of foreign claims on its currency.[1]

commodates those ows by buying up any net inow of

funds into the country or by providing foreign currency
funds to the foreign exchange market to match any international outow of funds, thus preventing the funds
ows from aecting the exchange rate between the countrys currency and other currencies. Then the net change
per year in the central banks foreign exchange reserves
is sometimes called the balance of payments surplus or
decit. Alternatives to a xed exchange rate system include a managed oat where some changes of exchange
rates are allowed, or at the other extreme a purely oating
exchange rate (also known as a purely exible exchange
rate). With a pure oat the central bank does not intervene at all to protect or devalue its currency, allowing the
rate to be set by the market, and the central banks foreign exchange reserves do not change, and the balance of
payments is always zero.

.[2] These transactions include payments for the countrys

exports and imports of goods, services, nancial capital, and nancial transfers.It is prepared in a single currency, typically the domestic currency for the country
concerned. Sources of funds for a nation, such as exports
or the receipts of loans and investments, are recorded as
positive or surplus items. Uses of funds, such as for imports or to invest in foreign countries, are recorded as negative or decit items.

1 Components

When all components of the BOP accounts are included

they must sum to zero with no overall surplus or decit.
For example, if a country is importing more than it exports, its trade balance will be in decit, but the shortfall
will have to be counterbalanced in other ways such as
by funds earned from its foreign investments, by running
down central bank reserves or by receiving loans from
other countries.

The current account shows the net amount a country is

earning if it is in surplus, or spending if it is in decit. It
is the sum of the balance of trade (net earnings on exports
minus payments for imports), factor income (earnings on
foreign investments minus payments made to foreign investors) and cash transfers. It is called the current account
as it covers transactions in the here and now those that
While the overall BOP accounts will always balance when don't give rise to future claims.[3]
all types of payments are included, imbalances are possiThe capital account records the net change in ownerble on individual elements of the BOP, such as the current
ship of foreign assets. It includes the reserve account
account, the capital account excluding the central banks
(the foreign exchange market operations of a nations
reserve account, or the sum of the two. Imbalances in
central bank), along with loans and investments between
the latter sum can result in surplus countries accumulatthe country and the rest of world (but not the future intering wealth, while decit nations become increasingly inest payments and dividends that the loans and investments
debted. The term balance of payments often refers to
yield; those are earnings and will be recorded in the curthis sum: a countrys balance of payments is said to be
rent account). If a country purchases more foreign assets
in surplus (equivalently, the balance of payments is posfor cash than the assets it sells for cash to other countries,
itive) by a specic amount if sources of funds (such as
the capital account is said to be negative or in decit.
export goods sold and bonds sold) exceed uses of funds
(such as paying for imported goods and paying for foreign The term capital account is also used in the narrower
bonds purchased) by that amount. There is said to be a sense that excludes central bank foreign exchange market
balance of payments decit (the balance of payments is operations: Sometimes the reserve account is classied as
said to be negative) if the former are less than the latter. below the line and so not reported as part of the capital
A BOP surplus (or decit) is accompanied by an accumu- account.
lation (or decumulation) of foreign exchange reserves by Expressed with the broader meaning for the capital acthe central bank.
count, the BOP identity states that any current account
Under a xed exchange rate system, the central bank ac- surplus will be balanced by a capital account decit of
equal size or alternatively a current account decit will


be balanced by a corresponding capital account surplus:

2 Variations in the use of term

balance of payments

account current+account capital dened broadly +item balancing

= 0.writer J. Orlin Grabbe warns the term balEconomics
ance of payments can be a source of misunderstanding
The balancing item, which may be positive or negative, is due to divergent expectations about what the term desimply an amount that accounts for any statistical errors notes. Grabbe says the term is sometimes misused by
and assures that the current and capital accounts sum to people who aren't aware of the accepted meaning, not
zero. By the principles of double entry accounting, an en- only in general conversation but in nancial publications
try in the current account gives rise to an entry in the cap- and the economic literature.[4]
ital account, and in aggregate the two accounts automatically balance. A balance isn't always reected in reported A common source of confusion arises from whether or
gures for the current and capital accounts, which might, not the reserve account entry, part of the capital account,
for example, report a surplus for both accounts, but when is included in the BOP accounts. The reserve account
this happens it always means something has been missed records the activity of the nations central bank. If it is
most commonly, the operations of the countrys cen- excluded, the BOP can be in surplus (which implies the
tral bank and what has been missed is recorded in the central bank is building up foreign exchange reserves) or
in decit (which implies the central bank is running down
statistical discrepancy term (the balancing item).[4]
its reserves or borrowing from abroad).[2][4]
An actual balance sheet will typically have numerous sub
headings under the principal divisions. For example, en- The term balance of payments is sometimes misused by
non-economists to mean just relatively narrow parts of the
tries under Current account might include:
BOP such as the trade decit,[4] which means excluding
parts of the current account and the entire capital account.
Trade buying and selling of goods and services
Another cause of confusion is the dierent naming conventions in use.[5] Before 1973 there was no standard way
Exports a credit entry
to break down the BOP sheet, with the separation into
Imports a debit entry
invisible and visible payments sometimes being the prin Trade balance the sum of Exports and cipal divisions. The IMF have their own standards for
BOP accounting which is equivalent to the standard deImports
nition but uses dierent nomenclature, in particular with
Factor income repayments and dividends from respect to the meaning given to the term capital account.
loans and investments
Factor earnings a credit entry
Factor payments a debit entry

2.1 The IMF denition of Balance of Payment

Factor income balance the sum of earn- The International Monetary Fund (IMF) use a particular set of denitions for the BOP accounts, which is also
ings and payments.
used by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development (OECD), and the United Nations System
Especially in older balance sheets, a common division of National Accounts (SNA).[6]
was between visible and invisible entries. Visible trade
recorded imports and exports of physical goods (entries The main dierence in the IMFs terminology is that it
for trade in physical goods excluding services is now often uses the term nancial account to capture transactions
called the merchandise balance). Invisible trade would that would under alternative denitions be recorded in the
record international buying and selling of services, and capital account. The IMF uses the term capital account to
sometimes would be grouped with transfer and factor in- designate a subset of transactions that, according to other
usage, form a small part of the overall capital account.[7]
come as invisible earnings.[2]
The IMF separates these transactions out to form an addiThe term balance of payments surplus (or decit a tional top level division of the BOP accounts. Expressed
decit is simply a negative surplus) refers to the sum of with the IMF denition, the BOP identity can be written:
the surpluses in the current account and the narrowly dened capital account (excluding changes in central bank
reserves). Denoting the balance of payments surplus as
account current + account nancial + account capital + item balancing = 0
BOP surplus, the relevant identity is
The IMF uses the term current account with the same
meaning as that used by other organizations, although
BOP surplus = surplus account current+surplus accountitcapital
has itsdened
own names
for its three leading sub-divisions,


Causes of BOP imbalances

which are:

between the current accounts in the eurozone to be the

root cause of the Euro crisis, for instance Heiner Flass[14]
Paul Krugman[15] or Joseph Stiglitz.[16]
The goods and services account (the overall trade
The primary income account (factor income such as
from loans and investments)
The secondary income account (transfer payments)

balance of payments are also known as balance of international trade


3.1 Causes of BOP imbalances

There are conicting views as to the primary cause of
BOP imbalances, with much attention on the US which
currently has by far the biggest decit. The conventional view is that current account factors are the primary
cause[17] these include the exchange rate, the governments scal decit, business competitiveness, and private behaviour such as the willingness of consumers to go
into debt to nance extra consumption.[18] An alternative
view, argued at length in a 2005 paper by Ben Bernanke,
is that the primary driver is the capital account, where a
global savings glut caused by savers in surplus countries,
runs ahead of the available investment opportunities, and
is pushed into the US resulting in excess consumption and
asset price ination.[19]

While the BOP has to balance overall,[8] surpluses or

decits on its individual elements can lead to imbalances between countries. In general there is concern over
decits in the current account.[9] Countries with decits in
their current accounts will build up increasing debt and/or
see increased foreign ownership of their assets. The types
of decits that typically raise concern are[2]

Reserve asset

A visible trade decit where a nation is importing Main article: Reserve currency
more physical goods than it exports (even if this is In the context of BOP and international monetary sysbalanced by the other components of the current account.)
An overall current account decit.
A basic decit which is the current account plus foreign direct investment (but excluding other elements
of the capital account like short terms loans and the
reserve account.)
As discussed in the history section below, the Washington
Consensus period saw a swing of opinion towards the view
that there is no need to worry about imbalances. Opinion swung back in the opposite direction in the wake of
nancial crisis of 20072009. Mainstream opinion expressed by the leading nancial press and economists, international bodies like the IMF as well as leaders of
surplus and decit countries has returned to the view
that large current account imbalances do matter.[10] Some
economists do, however, remain relatively unconcerned
about imbalances[11] and there have been assertions, such
as by Michael P. Dooley, David Folkerts-Landau and Peter Garber, that nations need to avoid temptation to switch
to protectionism as a means to correct imbalances.[12]

The US dollar has been the leading reserve asset since the end of
the gold standard.

tems, the reserve asset is the currency or other store of

value that is primarily used by nations for their foreign
reserves.[20] BOP imbalances tend to manifest as hoards
of the reserve asset being amassed by surplus countries,
with decit countries building debts denominated in the
reserve asset or at least depleting their supply. Under a
gold standard, the reserve asset for all members of the
standard is gold. In the Bretton Woods system, either
gold or the U.S. dollar could serve as the reserve asset,
though its smooth operation depended on countries apart
from the US choosing to keep most of their holdings in

Current account surpluses are facing current account

decits of other countries, the indebtedness of which towards abroad therefore increases. According to Balances
Mechanics by Wolfgang Sttzel this is described as surplus of expenses over the revenues. Increasing imbalances in foreign trade are critically discussed as a pos- Following the ending of Bretton Woods, there has been
sible cause of the nancial crisis since 2007.[13] Many no de jure reserve asset, but the US dollar has remained
keynesian economists consider the existing dierences by far the principal de facto reserve. Global reserves rose


sharply in the rst decade of the 21st century, partly as

a result of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, where several nations ran out of foreign currency needed for essential imports and thus had to accept deals on unfavourable
terms. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that between 2000 to mid-2009, ocial reserves
rose from $1,900bn to $6,800bn.[21] Global reserves had
peaked at about $7,500bn in mid-2008, then declined by
about $430bn as countries without their own reserve currency used them to shield themselves from the worst effects of the nancial crisis. From Feb 2009 global reserves began increasing again to reach close to $9,200bn
by the end of 2010.[22] [23]

rived domestically but their debts are often denominated

in a reserve currency. Once the nations government has
exhausted its foreign reserves trying to support the value
of the domestic currency, its policy options are very limited. It can raise its interest rates to try to prevent further
declines in the value of its currency, but while this can
help those with debts denominated in foreign currencies,
it generally further depresses the local economy.[30] [32]

As of 2009, approximately 65% of the worlds $6,800bn

total is held in U.S. dollars and approximately 25% in
euros. The UK pound, Japanese yen, IMF special drawing rights (SDRs), and precious metals[24] also play a role.
In 2009, Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the Peoples Bank
of China, proposed a gradual move towards increased
use of SDRs, and also for the national currencies backing SDRs to be expanded to include the currencies of all
major economies.[25] [26] Dr Zhous proposal has been described as one of the most signicant ideas expressed in

One of the three fundamental functions of an

international monetary system is to provide mechanisms to correct imbalances.[34][35]


4 Balancing mechanisms

Broadly speaking, there are three possible methods to

correct BOP imbalances, though in practice a mixture including some degree of at least the rst two methods tends
to be used. These methods are adjustments of exchange
rates; adjustment of a nations internal prices along with
its levels of demand; and rules based adjustment.[36] Improving productivity and hence competitiveness can also
help, as can increasing the desirability of exports through
While the current central role of the dollar does give the other means, though it is generally assumed a nation is
US some advantages, such as lower cost of borrowings, it always trying to develop and sell its products to the best
also contributes to the pressure causing the U.S. to run a of its abilities.
current account decit, due to the Trin dilemma. In a
November 2009 article published in Foreign Aairs magazine, economist C. Fred Bergsten argued that Dr Zhous 4.1 Rebalancing by changing the exchange
suggestion or a similar change to the international monerate
tary system would be in the United States best interests
as well as the rest of the worlds.[28] Since 2009 there has An upwards shift in the value of a nations currency relabeen a notable increase in the number of new bilateral tive to others will make a nations exports less competitive
agreements which enable international trades to be trans- and make imports cheaper and so will tend to correct a
acted using a currency that isn't a traditional reserve asset, current account surplus. It also tends to make investment
such as the renminbi, as the Settlement currency. [29]
ows into the capital account less attractive so will help


Balance of payments crisis

Main article: Currency crisis

A BOP crisis, also called a currency crisis, occurs when
a nation is unable to pay for essential imports and/or service its debt repayments. Typically, this is accompanied
by a rapid decline in the value of the aected nations
currency. Crises are generally preceded by large capital
inows, which are associated at rst with rapid economic
growth.[30] However a point is reached where overseas investors become concerned about the level of debt their
inbound capital is generating, and decide to pull out their
funds.[31] The resulting outbound capital ows are associated with a rapid drop in the value of the aected nations
currency. This causes issues for rms of the aected
nation who have received the inbound investments and
loans, as the revenue of those rms is typically mostly de-

with a surplus there too. Conversely a downward shift in

the value of a nations currency makes it more expensive
for its citizens to buy imports and increases the competitiveness of their exports, thus helping to correct a decit
(though the solution often doesn't have a positive impact
immediately due to the MarshallLerner condition).[37]
Exchange rates can be adjusted by government[38] in a
rules based or managed currency regime, and when left
to oat freely in the market they also tend to change in
the direction that will restore balance. When a country is
selling more than it imports, the demand for its currency
will tend to increase as other countries ultimately[39] need
the selling countrys currency to make payments for the
exports. The extra demand tends to cause a rise of the
currencys price relative to others. When a country is importing more than it exports, the supply of its own currency on the international market tends to increase as it
tries to exchange it for foreign currency to pay for its imports, and this extra supply tends to cause the price to
fall. BOP eects are not the only market inuence on


Rules based rebalancing mechanisms

exchange rates however, they are also inuenced by dif- its GDP[43] and calls to reduce its surplus by increasing
ferences in national interest rates and by speculation.
demand have not been welcome by ocials,[44] adding
to fears that the 2010s will not be an easy decade for
the eurozone.[45] In their April 2010 world economic out4.2 Rebalancing by adjusting internal look report, the IMF presented a study showing how with
prices and demand
the right choice of policy options governments can transition out of a sustained current account surplus with no
When exchange rates are xed by a rigid gold standard,[40] negative eect on growth and with a positive impact on
or when imbalances exist between members of a currency unemployment.[46]
union such as the Eurozone, the standard approach to correct imbalances is by making changes to the domestic
economy. To a large degree, the change is optional for the 4.3 Rules based rebalancing mechanisms
surplus country, but compulsory for the decit country.
In the case of a gold standard, the mechanism is largely Nations can agree to x their exchange rates against each
automatic. When a country has a favourable trade bal- other, and then correct any imbalances that arise by rules
ance, as a consequence of selling more than it buys it will based and negotiated exchange rate changes and other
experience a net inow of gold. The natural eect of this methods. The Bretton Woods system of xed but adwill be to increase the money supply, which leads to ina- justable exchange rates was an example of a rules based
tion and an increase in prices, which then tends to make its system. John Maynard Keynes, one of the architects of
goods less competitive and so will decrease its trade sur- the Bretton Woods system had wanted additional rules to
plus. However the nation has the option of taking the gold encourage surplus countries to share the burden of rebalout of economy (sterilising the inationary eect) thus ancing, as he argued that they were in a stronger position
building up a hoard of gold and retaining its favourable to do so and as he regarded their surpluses as negative
balance of payments. On the other hand, if a country externalities imposed on the global economy.[47] Keynes
has an adverse BOP it will experience a net loss of gold, suggested that traditional balancing mechanisms should
which will automatically have a deationary eect, un- be supplemented by the threat of conscation of a portion
less it chooses to leave the gold standard. Prices will of excess revenue if the surplus country did not choose to
be reduced, making its exports more competitive, and spend it on additional imports. However his ideas were
thus correcting the imbalance. While the gold standard is not accepted by the Americans at the time. In 2008 and
generally considered to have been successful[41] up until 2009, American economist Paul Davidson had been pro1914, correction by deation to the degree required by the moting his revamped form of Keyness plan as a possilarge imbalances that arose after WWI proved painful, ble solution to global imbalances which in his opinion
with deationary policies contributing to prolonged un- would expand growth all round without the downside risk
employment but not re-establishing balance. Apart from of other rebalancing methods.[37][48][49]
the US most former members had left the gold standard
by the mid-1930s.
A possible method for surplus countries such as Germany 5 History of balance of payments
to contribute to re-balancing eorts when exchange rate
adjustment is not suitable, is to increase its level of internal demand (i.e. its spending on goods). While a current
account surplus is commonly understood as the excess of Historically, accurate balance of payments gures were
earnings over spending, an alternative expression is that not generally available. However, this did not prevent a
it is the excess of savings over investment.[42] That is:
number of switches in opinion on questions relating to
whether or not a nations government should use policy to
encourage a favourable balance.
where CA = current account, NS = national savings (pri- 5.1
vate plus government sector), NI = national investment.
If a nation is earning more than it spends the net eect
will be to build up savings, except to the extent that those
savings are being used for investment. If consumers can
be encouraged to spend more instead of saving; or if the
government runs a scal decit to oset private savings;
or if the corporate sector divert more of their prots to investment, then any current account surplus will tend to be
reduced. However, in 2009 Germany amended its constitution to prohibit running a decit greater than 0.35% of

Pre-1820: mercantilism

Up until the early 19th century, international trade was

generally very small in comparison with national output,
and was often heavily regulated. In the Middle Ages, European trade was typically regulated at municipal level
in the interests of security for local industry and for established merchants.[50] From about the 16th century,
mercantilism became the dominant economic theory inuencing European rulers, which saw local regulation replaced by national rules aiming to harness the countries

economic output.[51] Measures to promote a trade surplus such as taris were generally favoured. Power was
associated with wealth, and with low levels of growth, nations were best able to accumulate funds either by running
trade surpluses or by forcefully conscating the wealth
of others. Rulers sometimes strove to have their countries outsell competitors and so build up a war chest of
This era saw low levels of economic growth; average
global per capita income is not considered to have significantly risen in the whole 800 years leading up to 1820,
and is estimated to have increased on average by less than
0.1% per year between 1700 and 1820.[30] With very low
levels of nancial integration between nations and with
international trade generally making up a low proportion
of individual nations GDP, BOP crises were very rare.[30]


18201914: free trade


(in fact all industrial nations apart from Great Britain and
the Netherlands actually increased their taris and quotas
in the decades leading up to 1914, though this was motivated more by a desire to protect infant industries than
to encourage a trade surplus[30] ), capital controls were
largely absent, and people were generally free to cross international borders without requiring passports.
A gold standard enjoyed wide international participation
especially from 1870, further contributing to close economic integration between nations. The period saw substantial global growth, in particular for the volume of international trade which grew tenfold between 1820 and
1870 and then by about 4% annually from 1870 to 1914.
BOP crises began to occur, though less frequently than
was to be the case for the remainder of the 20th century.
From 1880 to 1914, there were approximately[56] 8 BOP
crises and 8 twin crises a twin crises being a BOP crises
that coincides with a banking crises.[30]

5.3 19141945: deglobalisation

Gold was the primary reserve asset during the gold standard era.

The favorable economic conditions that had prevailed up

until 1914 were shattered by the rst world war, and
eorts to re-establish them in the 1920s were not successful. Several countries rejoined the gold standard
around 1925. But surplus countries didn't play by the
rules,[30][57] sterilising gold inows to a much greater degree than had been the case in the pre-war period. Decit
nations such as Great Britain found it harder to adjust by
deation as workers were more enfranchised and unions
in particular were able to resist downwards pressure on
wages. During the Great Depression most countries abandoned the gold standard, but imbalances remained an
issue and international trade declined sharply. There
was a return to mercantilist type beggar thy neighbour
policies, with countries competitively devaluing their exchange rates, thus eectively competing to export unemployment. There were approximately 16 BOP crises and
15 twin crises (and a comparatively very high level of
banking crises.)[30]

From the late 18th century, mercantilism was challenged

by the ideas of Adam Smith and other economic thinkers
favouring free trade. After victory in the Napoleonic wars
Great Britain began promoting free trade, unilaterally reducing her trade taris. Hoarding of gold was no longer
encouraged, and in fact Britain exported more capital as a
percentage of her national income than any other creditor
nation has since.[53] Great Britains capital exports further
5.4 19451971: Bretton Woods
helped to correct global imbalances as they tended to be
counter cyclical, rising when Britains economy went into Main article: Bretton Woods system
recession, thus compensating other states for income lost
from export of goods.[30]
Following World War II, the Bretton Woods institutions
According to historian Carroll Quigley, Great Britain (the International Monetary Fund and World Bank) were
could aord to act benevolently[54] in the 19th century set up to support an international monetary system dedue to the advantages of her geographical location, its signed to encourage free trade while also oering states
naval power and economic ascendancy as the rst nation options to correct imbalances without having to deate
to enjoy an industrial revolution.[55] A view advanced by their economies. Fixed but exible exchange rates were
economists such as Barry Eichengreen is that the rst age established, with the system anchored by the dollar which
of Globalization began with the laying of transatlantic ca- alone remained convertible into gold. The Bretton Woods
bles in the 1860s, which facilitated a rapid increase in the system ushered in a period of high global growth, known
already growing trade between Britain and America.[33] as the Golden Age of Capitalism, however it came under
Though Current Account controls were still widely used pressure due to the inability or unwillingness of govern-


19712009: transition, Washington Consensus, Bretton Woods II

ments to maintain eective capital controls[58] and due to

instabilities related to the central role of the dollar.

such as Murray Rothbard and Milton Friedman[59] arguing that there was no great need to be concerned about
Imbalances caused gold to ow out of the US and a loss BOP issues.
of condence in the United States ability to supply gold In the immediate aftermath of the Bretton Woods colfor all future claims by dollar holders resulted in escalat- lapse, countries generally tried to retain some control
ing demands to convert dollars, ultimately causing the US over their exchange rate by independently managing it,
to end the convertibility of the dollar into gold, thus end- or by intervening in the foreign exchange market as part
ing the Bretton Woods system.[30] The 194571 era saw of a regional bloc, such as the Snake which formed in
approximately 24 BOP crises and no twin crises for ad- 1971.[34] The Snake was a group of European countries
vanced economies, with emerging economies seeing 16 who tried to retain stable rates at least with each other;
BOP crises and just one twin crises.[30]
the group eventually evolved into the European Exchange
Rate Mechanism (ERM) by 1979. From the mid-1970s
however, and especially in the 1980s and early 1990s,
5.5 19712009: transition, Washington many other countries followed the US in liberalising conConsensus, Bretton Woods II
trols on both their capital and current accounts, in adopting a somewhat relaxed attitude to their balance of payMain article: Washington Consensus
ments and in allowing the value of their currency to oat
The Bretton Woods system came to an end between relatively freely with exchange rates determined mostly
by the market.[30][34]
Developing countries who chose to allow the market to
determine their exchange rates would often develop sizeable current account decits, nanced by capital account
inows such as loans and investments,[60] though this often ended in crises when investors lost condence.[30][61]
The frequency of crises was especially high for developing economies in this era from 1973 to 1997 emerging economies suered 57 BOP crises and 21 twin crises.
Typically but not always the panic among foreign creditors and investors that preceded the crises in this period
was usually triggered by concerns over excess borrowing
by the private sector, rather than by a government decit.
For advanced economies, there were 30 BOP crises and
6 banking crises.

Manmohan Singh, Former PM of India, showed that the challenges caused by imbalances can be an opportunity when he led
his countrys successful economic reform programme after the
1991 crisis.

1971 and 1973. There were attempts to repair the system of xed exchanged rates over the next few years,
but these were soon abandoned, as were determined efforts for the U.S. to avoid BOP imbalances. Part of
the reason was displacement of the previous dominant
economic paradigm Keynesianism by the Washington Consensus, with economists and economics writers

A turning point was the 1997 Asian BOP Crisis, where

unsympathetic responses by western powers caused policy makers in emerging economies to re-assess the wisdom of relying on the free market; by 1999 the developing world as a whole stopped running current account decits[32] while the U.S. current account decit
began to rise sharply.[63] [64] This new form of imbalance began to develop in part due to the increasing practice of emerging economies, principally China, in pegging their currency against the dollar, rather than allowing the value to freely oat. The resulting state of affairs has been referred to as Bretton Woods II.[12] According to Alaistair Chan, At the heart of the imbalance is Chinas desire to keep the value of the yuan stable
against the dollar. Usually, a rising trade surplus leads to
a rising value of the currency. A rising currency would
make exports more expensive, imports less so, and push
the trade surplus towards balance. China circumvents the
process by intervening in exchange markets and keeping the value of the yuan depressed.[65] According to
economics writer Martin Wolf, in the eight years leading up to 2007, three-quarters of the foreign currency
reserves accumulated since the beginning of time have
been piled up.[66] In contrast to the changed approach

within the emerging economies, US policy makers and

economists remained relatively unconcerned about BOP
imbalances. In the early to mid-1990s, many free market
economists and policy makers such as U.S. Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill and Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan
went on record suggesting the growing US decit was
not a major concern. While several emerging economies
had intervening to boost their reserves and assist their exporters from the late 1980s, they only began running a net
current account surplus after 1999. This was mirrored
in the faster growth for the US current account decit
from the same year, with surpluses, decits and the associated buildup of reserves by the surplus countries reaching record levels by the early 2000s and growing year
by year. Some economists such as Kenneth Rogo and
Maurice Obstfeld began warning that the record imbalances would soon need to be addressed from as early as
2001, joined by Nouriel Roubini in 2004, but it was not
until about 2007 that their concerns began to be accepted
by the majority of economists.[32][67]



suggested that increased use of pooled reserves could help

emerging economies not to require such large reserves
and thus have less need for current account surpluses. [74]
Writing for the FT in Jan 2009, Gillian Tett says she expects to see policy makers becoming increasingly concerned about exchange rates over the coming year.[75] In
June 2009, Olivier Blanchard the chief economist of the
IMF wrote that rebalancing the world economy by reducing both sizeable surpluses and decits will be a requirement for sustained recovery.[76]
In 2008 and 2009, there was some reduction in imbalances, but early indications towards the end of 2009 were
that major imbalances such as the U.S. current account
decit are set to begin increasing again.[11] [77]

Japan had allowed her currency to appreciate through

2009, but has only limited scope to contribute to the rebalancing eorts thanks in part to her aging population.
The euro used by Germany is allowed to oat fairly freely
in value, however further appreciation would be problematic for other members of the currency union such as
Spain, Greece and Ireland who run large decits. There2009 and later: post Washington Con- fore, Germany has instead been asked to contribute by
further promoting internal demand, but this hasn't been
welcomed by German ocials.[72]

Speaking after the 2009 G-20 London summit, Gordon Brown announced the Washington Consensus is
over.[68] There is now broad agreement that large imbalances between dierent countries do matter; for example
mainstream U.S. economist C. Fred Bergsten has argued
the U.S. decit and the associated large inbound capital
ows into the U.S. was one of the causes of the nancial
crisis of 20072010.[28] Since the crisis, government intervention in BOP areas such as the imposition of capital
controls or foreign exchange market intervention has become more common and in general attracts less disapproval from economists, international institutions like the
IMF and other governments.[69] [70]
In 2007, when the crises began, the global total of yearly
BOP imbalances was $1680 billion. On the credit side,
the biggest current account surplus was China with approx. $362 billion, followed by Japan at $213bn and Germany at 185 billion, with oil producing countries such
as Saudi Arabia also having large surpluses. On the debit
side, the US had the biggest current account decit at over
$1100 billion, with the UK, Spain and Australia together
accounting for close to a further $300 billion.[66]
While there have been warnings of future cuts in public spending, decit countries on the whole did not make
these in 2009, in fact the opposite happened with increased public spending contributing to recovery as part
of global eorts to increase demand.[71] The emphases
has instead been on the surplus countries, with the IMF,
EU and nations such as the U.S., Brazil and Russia asking
them to assist with the adjustments to correct the imbalances. [72] [73]
Economists such as Gregor Irwin and Philip R. Lane have

China has been requested to allow the renminbi to appreciate but until 2010 had refused, the position expressed by
her premier Wen Jiabao being that by keeping the value
of the renmimbi stable against the dollar China has been
helping the global recovery, and that calls to let her currency rise in value have been motivated by a desire to
hold back Chinas development.[73] After China reported
favourable results for her December 2009 exports however, the Financial Times reported that analysts are optimistic that China will allow some appreciation of her
currency around mid-2010.[78]
In April 2010 a Chinese ocial signalled the government
is considering allowing the renminbi to appreciate, [79]
but by May analysts were widely reporting the appreciation would likely be delayed due to the falling value of
the Euro following the 2010 European sovereign debt crisis.[80] China announced the end of the renminbis peg to
the dollar in June 2010; the move was widely welcomed
by markets and helped defuse tension over imbalances
prior to the 2010 G-20 Toronto summit. However the
renminbi remains managed and the new exibility means
it can move down as well as up in value; two months after
the peg ended the renminbi had only appreciated against
the dollar by about 0.8%.[81]
By January 2011, the renminbi had appreciated against
the dollar by 3.7%, which means its on track to appreciate in nominal terms by 6% per year. As this reects
a real appreciation of 10% when Chinas higher ination
is accounted for, the U.S. Treasury once again declined
to label China a currency manipulator in their February
2011 report to Congress. However Treasury ocials did
advise the rate of appreciation was still too slow for the

best interests of the global economy.[82][83]

Sterilization (economics)

In February 2011, Moodys analyst Alaistair Chan has

predicted that despite a strong case for an upward revaluation, an increased rate of appreciation against the dollar
is unlikely in the short term.[84] And as of February 2012,
Chinas currency had been continuing to appreciate for a
year and a half, while drawing remarkably little notice.[85]

Sudden stop (economics)

While some leading surplus countries including China

have been taking steps to boost domestic demand, these
have not yet been sucient to rebalance out of their current account surpluses. By June 2010, the U.S. monthly
current account decit had risen back to $50 billion, a
level not seen since mid-2008. With the US currently
suering from high unemployment and concerned about
taking on additional debt, fears are rising that the US may
resort to protectionist measures.[86]

Competitive devaluation after 2009

Main article: Currency war

By September 2010, international tensions relating to imbalances had further increased. Brazils nance minister
Guido Mantega declared that an international currency
war has broken out, with countries competitively trying
to devalue their currency so as to boost exports. Brazil has
been one of the few major economies lacking a reserve
currency to abstain from signicant currency intervention, with the real rising by 25% against the dollar since
January 2009. Some economists such as Barry Eichengreen have argued that competitive devaluation may be
a good thing as the net result will eectively be equivalent to expansionary global monetary policy. Others
such as Martin Wolf saw risks of tensions further escalating and advocated that coordinated action for addressing imbalances should be agreed on at the November G20
Commentators largely agreed that little substantive
progress was made on imbalances at the November 2010
G20. An IMF report released after the summit warned
that without additional progress there is a risk of imbalances approximately doubling to reach pre-crises levels
by 2014.[89]

See also
Currency crisis
Exchange rate regime
Foreign exchange reserves
History of money
IMF Balance of Payments Manual
Sovereign default

7 Notes and citations

[1] International Trade and Finance, B.L. Mathur and Raman
K. Dave (2012). International Trade and Finance. Wide
[2] Sloman, John (2004). Economics. Penguin. pp. 516, 517,
[3] adam antiam. Exchange Rates and International Finance
(4th ed.). Prentice Hall. pp. 1035. ISBN 0-273-683063.
[4] Orlin, Crabbe (1996). International Financial Markets
(3rd ed.). Prentice Hall. pp. 430452. ISBN 0-13206988-1.
[5] Colin Danby. Balance of Payments: Categories and Definitions. University of Washington. Retrieved 2009-1211.
[6] IMF Balance of Payments Manual, Chapter 2 Overview
of the Framework, Paragraph 2.15
[7] The IMF Capital account records mainly capital transfers,
the amounts involved are usually very small compared to
other BOP transactions, except in rare cases where a country is the beneciary of substantial debt forgiveness.
[8] This is not strictly true unless the nation is running a xed
exchange rate regime. Understood in the tangible sense to
refer not to an accounting balance sheet, but to the actual
international monetary transactions undertook by a nation
in a given period, its not always necessary for there to be
an overall balance. If however a current account surplus
or decit isn't matched by an equal and osetting decit
or surplus in the capital account, then exchange rates will
tend to automatically adjust in such a way as to resolve
the disequilibria. For example : if a nation has current account decit which isn't being fully nanced by an equal
surplus in the capital account, this will usually mean that
the supply of the nations currency increases in the foreign
exchange markets without a corresponding increase in demand, and hence the nations currency will depreciate. A
cheaper currency makes a nations exports more competitive which will tend to decrease the current account decit.
And for slightly more complex reasons a cheaper currency
also tends to increase the capital account surplus. So the
two accounts are brought into balance. (cf Sloman (2004)
pp. 55565) Note that this type of imbalance is not generally a matter of concern the Imbalances section refers
generally to a dierent type of imbalances which are not
self-correcting and involve the long term build up of debt.
[9] The Determinants & Excessiveness of Current Account
Decits in Eastern Europe & the Former Soviet Union,
(PDF). Aleksander Aristovnik, William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan. 19 July 2006. Retrieved 2010-07-05.



[10] Though there is dierence of opinion on how to resolve

the issue with the major surplus countries apart from Japan
resisting pressure to lower their own surpluses.

[23] Martin Wolf (5 April 2011). Waiting for the great rebalancing. The Financial Times. Archived from the original
on 20 May 2011. Retrieved 2011-05-23.

[11] Krishna Guha (24 October 2009). Recovery takes an unclear path. The Financial Times. Archived from the original on 3 December 2009. Retrieved 2010-01-10.

[24] Mainly gold, but also silver, platinum and palladium.

[12] Michael P. Dooley, David Folkerts-Landau, Peter Garber

(February 2009). Bretton Woods II Still Denes the International Monetary System. National Bureau of Economic Research.
[13] Wolfgang Mnchau, Kernschmelze im Finanzsystem,
Carl Hanser Verlag, Mnchen, 2008, p. 155.; vgl.
Benedikt Fehr: 'Bretton Woods II ist tot. Es lebe Bretton Woods III' in FAZ 12 May 2009, p. 32. FAZ.Net,
Stephanie Schoenwald:Globale Ungleichgewichte. Sind
sie fr die Finanzmarktkrise (mit-) verantwortlich? KfW
(Kreditanstalt fr Wiederaufbau) Research. MakroScope. No. 29, February 2009. p. 1.
Zu den auenwirtschaftlichen Ungleichgewichten als
makrokonomischer Nhrboden der Krise siehe auch
Deutsche Bundesbank: Finanzstabilittsbericht 2009,
Frankfurt am Main, November 2009 (PDF)., Gustav
Horn, Heike Joebges, Rudolf Zwiener: Von der Finanzkrise zur Weltwirtschaftskrise (II), Globale Ungleichgewichte: Ursache der Krise und Auswegstrategien fr
Deutschland IMK-Report Nr. 40, August 2009, p. 6-7.
(PDF; 260 kB)

[25] Jamil Anderlini in Beijing (23 March 2009). China calls

for new reserve currency. Financial Times. Archived
from the original on 14 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-0413.
[26] Zhou Xiaochuan (23 March 2009). Reform the International Monetary System. Peoples Bank of China.
Archived from the original on 7 April 2009. Retrieved
[27] Geo Dyer in Beijing (24 August 2009). The dragon
stirs. The Financial Times. Retrieved 2009-09-18.
[28] C. Fred Bergsten (November 2009). The Dollar and the
Decits. Foreign Aairs. Archived from the original on
1 December 2009. Retrieved 2009-12-15.
[29] Gerard Lyons (27 April 2010). China is undermining the
dollar by the back-door. The Financial Times. Archived
from the original on 30 April 2010. Retrieved 2010-0501.
[30] Eirc Helleiner , Louis W Pauly; et al. (2005). John Ravenhill, ed. Global Political Economy. Oxford University
Press. pp. 715, 154, 177204.

[14] Heiner Flassbeck: Wege aus der Eurokrise. YouTube

[31] It sometimes takes only one or two big investors pulling

out to trigger a mass panic due to herd eects.

[15] Paul Krugman Blog: Germans and Aliens, Online verfgbar unter

[32] Wolf, Martin (2009). 3. Fixing Global Finance. Yale

University Press. pp. 3139.

[16] Joseph Stiglitz: Is Mercantilism Doomed to Fail?,

Online available at
[17] Richard Duncan (31 January 2008). Buyers, not savers,
caused Americas decit. The Financial Times. Archived
from the original on 26 February 2010. Retrieved 201001-13.
[18] Martin Wolf (4 November 2009). Private behaviour will
shape our path to scal stability. The Financial Times.
Retrieved 2010-01-13.
[19] Governor Ben S. Bernanke, The Global Saving Glut and
the U.S. Current Account Decit.
March 2005. Retrieved 2010-01-13.
[20] However individual states may choose to keep some of
their reserves in the form of whatever currency is used by
nations they buy most of their imports from (providing
mechanisms are available to settle trades in that currency,
which isn't always the case).
[21] John Plender (11 November 2009). Decline but no fall.
The Financial Times. Retrieved 2010-01-19.
[22] Martin Wolf (29 September 2010). Currencies clash in
new age of beggar-my-neighbour. The Financial Times.
Archived from the original on 29 September 2010. Retrieved 2010-09-29.

[33] Barry Eichengreen and Michael D Bordo (11 November

2001). Crises Now and Then (PDF). Berkeley. Retrieved 2010-05-17.
[34] Roberts, Richard (1999). Inside International Finance.
Orion. pp. 127. ISBN 0-7528-2070-2.
[35] Scores of other text books old and new also give this definition, see for example International monetary relations:
theory, history, and policy (1976), p611 By Leland B. Yeager. The other two basic functions are to provide liquidity and to impart condence. While during the Washington Consensus period less emphases was placed on the
need for balance, in the main a requirement for correction
was still accepted, though many argued that governments
should leave such correction to the markets.
[36] Following the collapse of the Bretton Woods system, rules
based adjustment is mostly theoretical.
[37] Paul Davidson (2009). The Keynes Solution: The Path
to Global Economic Prosperity. Palgrave Macmillan. pp.
123138. ISBN 978-0-230-61920-3.
[38] Though except in the early years of the Bretton Woods
System when international markets were heavily constrained by capital controls, managing the exchange rate
has often been problematic as the markets often want
the currency to move in the opposite direction to governments. Developing countries in particular would often


experience diculties, though even advanced economies

like Britain had issues, with Black Wednesday an example
when she had insucient reserves to counter the market.
[39] There are commonly used nancial instruments that allow importers to pay with their domestic currency, and
the reserve asset will often play an intermediary role, but
ultimately exporters require paying in their own currency.
[40] In practice there is typically still a small degree of
exchange rate exibility due to the cost of shipping gold
between nations.
[41] Though not problem free, see Paper from the Bank of
Canada on current imbalances in context of international
monetary system history
[42] Wolfgang Munchau (7 June 2009). Down and out for the
long term in Germany. The Financial Times. Retrieved
[43] Bertrand Benoit (29 May 2009). Berlin vote heralds big
spending cuts. The Financial Times. Archived from the
original on 13 January 2010. Retrieved 2010-01-12.
[44] Ralph Atkins (30 September 2009). The Bundesbank
and global imbalances. The Financial Times. Retrieved
[45] Martin Wolf (5 January 2010). The eurozones next
decade will be tough. The Financial Times. Archived
from the original on 15 January 2010. Retrieved 201001-12.
[46] Getting the balance right. (PDF). International Monetary Fund. 18 April 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-17.
[47] Joseph Stiglitz (5 May 2010). Can the Euro be Saved?".
Project Syndicate. Archived from the original on 9 May
2010. Retrieved 2010-05-17.
[48] Reforming the worlds international money (pdf) (2008)
by Paul Davidson
[49] Rebalancing the global economy: A Primer for Policymaking (p.174 et seq.)" (PDF). Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR). 2010. Retrieved 2011-12-01.
[50] Annual fairs would sometimes allow exceptions to the
standard regulations.
[51] Karl Polanyi (2002). The Great Transformation. Beacon
Press. ISBN 978-0-8070-5643-1.
[52] Silver and other precious commodities were also important sometimes, acting along with gold as part of a nations
de facto reserve asset.
[53] Harold James (2009-06-30). The End of Globalization.
Harvard University Press / google books. p. 12. ISBN
9780674039087. Retrieved 2009-03-17.
[54] However, some, like Otto von Bismarck, viewed Great
Britains promotion of free trade as a way to maintain its
dominant position FT article
[55] Carroll Quigley (1995). Tragedy and Hope. GSG & Associates, Inc. pp. 243, 263. ISBN 0-945001-10-X.

[56] Dierent economic historians don't always classify the

same events as a BOP or twin crises
[57] One of the informal rules during the gold standard era was
that countries running a trade surplus ought to allow the
net inow of gold they receive to increase their domestic money supply. This would have an expansionary and
possibly inationary eect on their economies, helping to
reverse the earlier trade surplus and thus correct the imbalance. However central banks of surplus countries could
choice not to allow the extra gold to circulate in their domestic economies, hoarding it in their vaults , and thus
the burden of rebalancing would fall entirely on the decit
countries which may need to deate their economies in
order to reduce prices and regain competitiveness.
[58] Dani Rodrik (11 May 2010). Greek Lessons for the
World Economy. Project Syndicate. Retrieved 201005-19.
[59] e.g., in his inuential Free to Choose TV series
[60] In the 1970s and 1980s a signicant part of the capital
owing into developing countries was re-cycled petro dollars, the oil producing countries were among the few to
have large surpluses but at that time the US wasn't issuing many bonds so the capital tended to ow to developing countries via the intermediary of western investment
[61] Heakal, Reem. Understanding Capital And Financial
Accounts In The Balance Of Payments. Investopedia.
Retrieved 2009-12-11.
[62] Eswar S. Prasad, Raghuram G. Rajan, and Arvind Subramanian (16 April 2007). Foreign Capital and Economic
Growth (PDF). Peterson Institute. Archived (PDF) from
the original on 14 December 2009. Retrieved 2009-1215.
[63] U.S. Trade in Goods and Services Balance of Payments
1960 thru 2008
[64] Data visualization from OECD, select 'Current account
imbalances or 'Reserve Accumalation' on the stories tab,
then move the date slider to see how imbalances developed
between 19902008.
[65] Chan, Alaistair. The U.S. China Balance of Payments
Relationship. Moodys Analytics. Retrieved 2011-0223.
[66] Martin Wolf (8 October 2008). Asias Revenge. The
Financial Times. Retrieved 2010-01-10.
[67] Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogo (2010). This Time
Is Dierent: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly. Princeton
University Press. pp. 208212. ISBN 0-19-926584-4.
[68] Prime Minister Gordon Brown: G20 Will Pump Trillion
Dollars Into World Economy. Sky News. 2 April 2009.
[69] Dani Rodrik (11 March 2010). The End of an Era in
Finance. Project Syndicate. Retrieved 2010-05-24.
[70] Mansoor Mohi-Uddin (22 September 2010). Towards a
new era of currency intervention. The Financial Times.
Retrieved 2010-09-23.


[71] The public spending did not however make the imbalances
worse as they were oset by reduced private sector demand and debt in the decit countries.
[72] Chris Giles (11 January 2009). Surplus nations urged by
IMF to take up baton. The Financial Times. Retrieved
[73] Geo Dyer (29 December 2009). Wen dismisses currency pressure. The Financial Times. Retrieved 201001-10.
[74] Philip R. Lane. Global Imbalances and Global Governance (PDF). CEPR. Retrieved 2009-12-11.
[75] Gillian Tett (28 January 2010). Calls for a new Bretton
Woods not so mad. Financial Times. Archived from the
original on 29 January 2010. Retrieved 2010-01-29.
[76] Olivier Blanchard (18 June 2009). What is needed for a
lasting recovery. The Financial Times. Retrieved 201005-17.
[77] Gideon Rachman (12 January 2010). Bankruptcy could
be good for America. The Financial Times. Archived
from the original on 12 January 2010. Retrieved 201001-12.
[78] Patti Waldmeir (10 January 2010). Chinas exports rise
as economy picks up. The Financial Times. Archived
from the original on 11 January 2010. Retrieved 201001-10.
[79] Jamil Anderlini in Beijing (6 April 2010). Beijing lays
ground for renminbi shift. Financial Times. Archived
from the original on 6 April 2010. Retrieved 2010-0408.
[80] Kevin Brown in Kuala Lumpur, Jamil Anderlini in Beijing and Robin Harding in Tokyo (20 May 2010). Asian
exporters rattled by eurozone turmoil. Financial Times.
Archived from the original on 21 May 2010. Retrieved
[81] Geo Dyer (10 August 2010). China trade surplus
widens. The Financial Times. Archived from the original on 19 August 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-24.
[82] Treasury staers (4 February 2011). Report to Congress
on International Economic and Exchange Rate Policies
(PDF). United States Department of the Treasury. Retrieved 2011-02-25.
[83] Robin Harding (5 February 2011). US retreats from attack on renminbi. The Financial Times. Retrieved 201102-07.
[84] Chan, Alaistair. The U.S. China Balance of Payments
Relationship. Retrieved 2011-02-22.


[87] Jonathan Wheatley in So Paulo and Peter Garnham in

London (27 September 2010). Brazil in currency war
alert. The Financial Times. Archived from the original
on 29 September 2010. Retrieved 2010-09-29.
[88] Alan Beattie (27 September 2010). Hostilities escalate
to hidden currency war. The Financial Times. Archived
from the original on 29 September 2010. Retrieved 201009-29.
[89] IMF staers (12 November 2010). G-20 Mutual Assessment Process IMF Sta Assessment of G-20 Policies1
(PDF). International Monetary Fund. Retrieved 2010-1119.

8 Further reading
Stein, Herbert (2008). Balance of Payments. In
David R. Henderson (ed.). Concise Encyclopedia
of Economics (2nd ed.). Indianapolis: Library of
Economics and Liberty. ISBN 978-0865976658.
OCLC 237794267.
Economics 8th Edition by David Begg, Stanley Fischer and Rudiger Dornbusch, McGraw-Hill
Economics Third Edition by Alain Anderton,
Causeway Press

9 External links
9.1 Data
Comprehensive international BOP statistics from
the IMF
BOP for Hong Kong
US statistics (See External Sector)
Detailed historical BOP data from the US Bureau of
Economic Analyses

9.2 Analysis
Where Do U.S. Dollars Go When the United States
Runs a Trade Decit? from Dollars & Sense magazine

[85] David Leonhardt (15 February 2012). Appreciation in

Chinas Currency Goes Largely Unnoted. The New York
Times. Retrieved 2012-03-16.

Report to Congress on International Economic and

Exchange Rate Policies Feb 2011 US treasury report
with sections on BOP issues for major trading blocs
and countries.

[86] Michael Pettis (22 August 2010). The last chance to

avoid a global trade war. The Financial Times. Archived
from the original on 8 August 2010. Retrieved 2010-0824.

Paper from the Bank of Canada on challenges for

2010 regarding current imbalances, in context of international monetary system history



European Central Bank paper on the accumulation

of reserves and imbalances since 1995
Dollar hegemony analysis on BOP issues from a
progressive Chinese perspective.






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