Nov 05 2010
As I was looking for news stories about the balance of payments, which we started studying in AP Economics today, I stumbled upon a story from over two years ago, published on the World Socialist Website, of all places. The reason I am blogging about it today, 25 months later, is that it contains some ominously prophetic messages about what the future (now the past) could hold for the US based on the economic data at the time. Read below to see what I mean:
The extent of the imbalances in the global economy and the fact that normal growth patterns will not correct them has been underlined by the latest US balance of payments deficit. The current account deficit reached $225 billion in the fourth quarter of 2005, up from $185.4 billion in the third. For the year 2005 the deficit was $805 billion, equivalent to 6.4 percent of gross domestic product.The latest figures show that rather than being closed, the payments gap is widening. This was the seventh year out of the last eight in which the deficit hit a new record.
“The bottom line is that a current account deficit of this unparalleled magnitude is unsustainable and there is no hope of it being painlessly resolved through higher exports alone,” Paul Ashworth, an analyst at Capital Economic told the Financial Times.
Total US exports would need to increase by 70 percent to eliminate the payments gap. “This is clearly not going to happen,” Ashworth continued. “Instead it will require a big dollar depreciation alongside much weaker domestic demand for imports.”
In other words,
the only way the deficit would start to fall is through a major recession in the US.“a big dollar depreciation” would almost certainly lead to a sharp interest rate rise, as international banks and financial institutions demanded bigger compensation for placing their funds in dollar assets. And a significant interest rate rise would bring a downturn in the economy.On the other hand, On the one hand,
“weaker domestic demand for imports” could be achieved only by a severe contraction of the US economy.This is because the very structure of the US economy, in which imports of goods and services are some 59 percent higher than exports, means that normal economic growth automatically increases the deficit.
So far almost everything the article has mentioned has actually happened, except for the increase in US interest rates. In fact, the Fed has lowered interest rates as the economy has approached recession, indicating that it considers a slowdown in growth a bigger threat than a weaker dollar and the accompanying inflation. In fact, expansionary monetary policy in the US (i.e. lower interest rates) has accelerated the dollar’s decline as foreign investors have pulled their money out of the US assets as interest rates in Europe and other markets have become more attractive.The article doesn’t hold out much hope for rising exports helping the US out of the predicted recession:
The only way the US could export its way out of the crisis would be if economic growth in the rest of the world proceeded at a significantly higher rate than the American economy. But here a vicious circle is in operation because economic growth in the rest of the world is itself highly dependent on an expanding US market. This is especially the case in Asia where economic growth is increasingly being fuelled by exports to China where goods are manufactured for the American market.
Today in class we introduced the determinants of exchange rates. One way Americans have been able to import so much more from China and other countries (remember, the US has trade deficits with 13 of its 15 largest trading partners!!) has been through foreign purchase of financial and real assets in the US, including government bonds:
In fact, the US is becoming increasingly dependent on foreign sources to support its current account and budget deficits. Foreign lenders have been financing 80 percent of the increase in the federal budget deficit, and foreign holdings of treasury securities increased by $108 billion in the last quarter of 2005.As Stephen Roach noted, with a foreign capital inflow of $3 billion every business day—up from $2 billion in 2003—the external dependency of the US “is simply without precedent in the annals of globalization and international finance”.
I found it interesting that most of what this article predicted would happen has already transpired, or is in the process of transpiring as we speak. The dollar has depreciated by 18% to the RMB, and even more to other major currencies, the US has entered a recession, raising questions as to the degree to which the economies of Europe and Asia have “de-coupled” from the US economy.Whether the US recession will lead to a significant slowdown in growth among its trading partners has yet to be seen. Uncertainty in global financial market has resulted in an international credit-crunch, meaning lenders have been less willing to extend loans to borrowers, leading to a decline investment and consumption everywhere; but with growth rates still predicted at 8-10% in China, and not too far behind elsewhere in the developing world, it seems plausible that a continued decline of the dollar combined with healthy growth and rising incomes abroad will shift America’s balance of payments away from worsening deficits in 2008.
- Define “US balance of payments deficit“. What accounts make up a country’s balance of payments?
- In what ways would “a big dollar depreciation alongside much weaker domestic demand for imports” help achieve more balanced trade between the US and its trading partners?
- Explain the statement: “weaker domestic demand for imports could be achieved only by a severe contraction of the US economy“
- Which of the determinants of exchange rates that we learned in class (remember “SIPIT”) is referred to in the following claim: “The only way the US could export its way
out of the crisis would be if economic growth in the rest of the world
proceeded at a significantly higher rate than the American economy“.
About the author: Jason Welker teaches International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement Economics at Zurich International School in Switzerland. In addition to publishing various online resources for economics students and teachers, Jason developed the online version of the Economics course for the IB and is has authored two Economics textbooks: Pearson Baccalaureate’s Economics for the IB Diploma and REA’s AP Macroeconomics Crash Course. Jason is a native of the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and is a passionate adventurer, who considers himself a skier / mountain biker who teaches Economics in his free time. He and his wife keep a ski chalet in the mountains of Northern Idaho, which now that they live in the Swiss Alps gets far too little use. Read more posts by this author