Archive for the 'Balance of Trade' Category

Nov 17 2014

Current Account Balance analysis and questions

The table below shows the trade balances for the nations from which my year two IB Economics student come. They are ranked in order from the country whose trade deficit makes up the largest percentage of its GDP  to the country whose trade surplus makes up the largest percentage of its GDP. The blue bars represent the value of the deficit or surplus of each nation. As can be seen, Zimbabwe’s trade deficit is very small in dollar terms, but since its economy is also very small this deficit makes up a large percentage of its total GDP. Click on the image to visit an interactive version of the chart on which you can study the data more closely. Then answer the questions that follow.
chart_2
Discussion Questions:

  1. Identify and define the four components of a nation’s current account balance.
  2. According to the data, which three countries are the most import dependent? Which three countries are the most export dependent? Which country has the most balance trade in goods and services? Which has the most imbalanced trade?
  3. For one of deficit countries above, answer the following two questions:
    1. Assuming its currencies’ exchange rates is floating, explain how persistent current account deficits will affect a country’s exchange rate over time?
    2. Summarize and explain the likely effects of a current account deficit on the following: a) the financial account balance, b) domestic interest rates, and c) national debt.
  4. For one of the surplus countries above, answer the following two questions:
    1. Assuming its currencies’ exchange rates is floating, explain how persistent current account surpluses will affect a country’s exchange rate over time?
    2. Summarize and explain the likely effects of a current account surplus on the following: a) domestic savings rates, b) the financial account balance.
  5. What are the various methods a country can take to reduce a current account deficit? What is the benefit of having a balanced current account as opposed to a large deficit or surplus?

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Feb 07 2013

Lesson plan: Elasticity, exchange rates and the balance of payments – understanding the Marshall Lerner Condition

Related Unit: IB Economics Unit 4.7 – Balance of Payments (Unit 3.3 in the new IB Economics syllabus)

Topic: The Marshall Lerner Condition and the J-Curve

Learning Goals/Objectives:

  • For students to understand that the levels of price elasticity of demand for a country’s imports and exports determines whether a depreciation or devaluation of the country’s currency will move the nation’s balance of payments towards a surplus or a deficit.
  • For students to understand the impact of time on the effect of a depreciation or devaluation of a nation’s currency on its balance of payments in the current account.
  • For students to evaluate the argument that a country will always benefit from a weaker currency.

Test of prior knowledge:

  1. Define ‘price elasticity of demand’ and explain how it is measured.
  2. With the use of examples, explain why some products have low price elasticity while others have a high elasticity. With the use of examples, explain why the price elasticity of demand for some goods changes over time
  3. Explain how the depreciation of a country’s exchange rate might affect its current account balance. IS THIS ALWAYS THE CASE?
  4. How might the PED for exports and imports influence the balance on the current account following a change in the value of a nation’s currency?

Part 1:

The exchange rate of Japanese Yen in the United States over the last two years:

Take a snapshot of your two-year exchange rate diagram in OneNote, then copy and paste the questions below into the page.

Questions to answer in OneNote:

  1. Write a brief description of the changes in your country’s exchange rate over the last two years. (2 marks)
  2. Focus on two specific time periods from during the last two years: One in which your currency appreciated noticeably and one in which it depreciated noticeably. These could be periods of just a couple of days or longer periods of weeks or more. Highlight these in two different covers in your graph.
  3. Describe what is happening to your currency during the two time periods you highlighted in your chart. (2 marks)
  4. Explain TWO factors that may have caused the currency to change in value. (2 marks)
  5. Given the changes to the exchange rate you identified above, what would you predict would happen to your country’s current account balance over the two periods identified? Explain. Following appreciation – in the short-run and in the long-runFollowing depreciation – in the short-run and in the long-run. (4 marks)
  6. Why does the price elasticity of demand for imports and exports increase over time following a change in a country’s exchange rate? (2 marks)
  7. Draw a J-Curve showing the likely change in your nation’s current account balance following the period of depreciation of its currency shown in your chart above and explain its shape, referring to your country’s currency. (2 marks)
  8. For both the period of appreciation and the period of depreciation you identified above, explain the impact of the change in exchange rates on the following (4 marks)
    • a firm that imports its raw materials from the other country
    • a firm that exports its finished products to the other country
    • consumers who buy imports from the other country
    • a firm that produces good for the domestic market and competes with firms from the other country

Part 2:

Read the following article:  How Far Will the Dollar Fall?’ by Richard W. Rahn. Based on the extracts below, answer the questions that follow.

Some applaud the dollar’s fall because they believe it makes U.S. exports less expensive and that higher demand will cut the trade deficit. The downside of a low-value dollar is that it makes all the imports we consume more expensive, including raw material and parts used by U.S. businesses, and makes it costlier for U.S. dollar holders to travel or invest outside the U.S. A continued drop in the dollar’s value could destabilize the international economy, leading to a worldwide recession.

  • Why might the weaker dollar worsen the US trade deficit? Under what conditions would the weaker dollar improve America’s trade deficit? (2 marks)

Some argue our large trade deficit (or current account deficit) is responsible for the fall in the dollar’s value. They have it backward. It is the flow of foreign investment dollars (the capital account) into the U.S. economy that drives the trade deficit.

  • How does a large financial (capital) account surplus allow the United States to maintain a large current account deficit? (2 marks)

The world now is actually on a two-currency standard — the dollar and the euro. China in effect has fixed its currency to the dollar for the last two decades, and the Japanese central bank only allows the yen to fluctuate within a limited range against the dollar.

  • How do exchange rate controls by China and Japan reduce the likelihood that a weaker dollar will improve the United States’ current account balance? (2 marks)

So long as the U.S. continues to offer a higher return on capital than its foreign competitors, both foreign banks’ and private investors’ demand for dollars grow, and the current account deficit can be sustained.

  • If investments in the United States began earning lower returns relative to investments in other countries’ financial and capital markets, what would ultimately happen to the US balance of payments in its current and financial accounts? Explain (2 marks)

The above lesson was inspired by the Biz-Ed activity “International Trade: The Falling Dollar or Rising Pound?”

4 responses so far

Mar 06 2012

Planet Money Podcast – “China’s Giant Pool of Money”

NPR’s Planet Money team did a great podcast last week about China’s accumulation of US dollars from its large trade surplus with the United States. This story offers a great illustration of the theories I introduced in my recent video lesson, The Relationship between the Current Account Balance and Exchange Rates

Listen to the podcast, watch the video lesson, and respond to the discussion questions that follow.



Discussion Questions:

  1. Why does the Chinese Central Bank possess over $3 trillion of foreign exchange reserves?
  2. What does the Chinese Central Bank do with the vast majority of the money it earns from the sale of its exports that it does NOT spend on US goods? Why not keep this money in cash?
  3. Why does the Chinese Central Bank manage the value of its currency, the RMB? Why not let the exchange rate be determined by the free market?
  4. As the RMB is slowly strengthened against the dollar, who are the winners and losers? What impact should a stronger RMB have on the balance of trade between China and the US?

 

One response so far

Feb 27 2012

A closer look at Apple’s iPad and iPhone – “made in America”?

I have two  interesting stories on Apple and the iPad to reflect on today.

First, ABC’s Nightline recently became the first Western journalists actually welcomed into an Apple assembly plant in China. The show recently aired a 15 minute feature on working conditions inside Apple’s Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China last week. Watch the video and then scroll down for what may be some additional surprising news about Apple’s operations in China.

Next, the story that has gone unreported lately is a University of California study titled “Capturing Value in Global Networks: Apple’s iPad and iPhone”. The study’s most interesting finding, in my opinion, is the tiny percentage of the total value of Apple’s iPhone and iPad that actually goes to the Chinese manufacturers of the products. The charts below, from the study, show how the value is divided among the various groups involved it their production and sales:

The Economist provides the analysis:

The chart shows a geographical breakdown of the retail price of an iPad. The main rewards go to American shareholders and workers. Apple’s profit amounts to about 30% of the sales price. Product design, software development and marketing are based in America. Add in the profits and wages of American suppliers, and distribution and retail costs, and America retains about half the total value of an iPad sold there. The next biggest gainers are South Korean firms like Samsung and LG, which provide the display and memory chips, whose profits account for 7% of an iPad’s value. The main financial benefit to China is wages paid to workers for assembling the product and for manufacturing some inputs—equivalent to only 2% of the retail price.

A student today asked why Apple doesn’t produce its products in the United States, where an economic downturn has left 14 million American out of work for the last three or four years. If iPads and iPhones were just made in America, jobs could be created, households would have more income to spend on Apples products, and both the country and the economy would benefit.

The data in the UC study indicates that in fact, more than half the value of an iPad or iPhone does end up in the hands of Americans. But Apple could never achieve the low costs and high profits that it does by assembling its products in the US. After watching the Nightline video above, it should be clear that the type of production involved in Apple factories’ is very low-skilled and labor-intensive. Using American labor, with its unions, minimum wages and 40 hour work weeks, would require Apple to employ such large numbers of workers and raise the company’s variable cost to such a level that the firm’s profits would be reduced significantly and its sales would fall dramatically. Apple would lose out to foreign producers of smart phones and tablet computers, such as LG, Samsung, Sony and others, which would continue assembling their goods with Chinese labor.

Ultimately, any gain to the low-skilled American workers (presuming Apple could even find enough to do the work of the 400,000 Chinese employed in the production of Apple products in China), would be offset by a loss of profits enjoyed by the millions of Americans who hold shares in Apple Computer and the thousands of American who are employed engineering and designing its products, as the firm’s sales would slip in the face of lower-cost competitors.

So this student’s question identifies an interesting paradox: America, with its large pool of unemployed workers, will never be attractive as a place to produce labor-intensive products such as phones and tablet computers, due to the vast wage differential between the US and China. And even if one firm did decide to produce its products in America, the gains to low-skilled workers who may find minimum wage work in the new assembly plants would be off-set by losses to the firms’ shareholders and the high-skilled workers whose jobs would be lost as sales decline due to the lower prices offered by lower-cost competitors.

The lesson here is two-fold: First, Apple and other American technology companies should continue using Chinese labor to assemble their products, and second, America is better off for it: lower costs mean cheaper products and higher sales, thus greater employment in the high-skilled sectors of the US economy, and more profits and returns on the investments of shareholders in American corporations. Americans are richer and enjoy a higher standard of living thanks to the millions of Chinese working in factories assembling the goods we consume.

Keep in mind, this analysis did not even consider the effect on the Chinese economy and the millions of Chinese workers (whose lives are much harder than the typical American) should companies like Apple shut down their Chinese manufacturing plants. That’s a whole other blog post!

2 responses so far

Feb 10 2012

The source of America’s trade deficit with China

I’m showing the PBS documentary, “Is Walmart Good for America?” to my AP Macroeconomics students today as we introduce the topic of trade balances.

Discussion questions will be posted soon.

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