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Nov 05 2010

US balance of payments deficit prophecies!

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 US balance of payments deficit hits another record – WSWS.org – 16 March 2006

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.

Discussion Questions:

 

  1. Define “US balance of payments deficit“. What accounts make up a country’s balance of payments?
  2. 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?
  3. Explain the statement: “weaker domestic demand for imports could be achieved only by a severe contraction of the US economy
  4. 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
    “.

17 responses so far

Feb 07 2010

Welker’s Wikinomics Blog’s new name: Economics in Plain English

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Welker’s Wikinomics Blog was created three years ago as a way to communicate economic ideas and theories in a clear and intelligible way for the high school economics student. Over those three years over 500 posts have been published, nearly 10 Economics teacher have contributed as authors and over 250,000 readers have visited (now up to over 600 per day).  But where did the name Welker’s Wikinomics come from, anyway?

When my adventure in Web 2.0 teaching began over three years ago, there was no blog. At first Welker’s Wikinomics was, not surprisingly, a wiki for my AP and IB Economics students in Shanghai to use as a study tool. But then came the blog, and for lack of a better name, it took on the same name as the wiki. Today the Welker’s Wikinomics name is actually shared by not only the wiki and this blog, but also by the Economics Universe, where econ students and teachers can find RSS feeds from hundreds of resources for learning economics, as well as the free lecture notes I publish here and which have been downloaded thousands of times by Econ students around the world.

Last year I began thinking about changing the name of this blog, as I was never quite satisfied having my blog called “Wikinomics”, since so many visitors to my site have always been confused about the difference between the wiki and the blog. So today I am happy to announce a new name for this blog, Economics in Plain English.

I thought of the new name while writing a blog post recently for which I spent a frustrating hour reading an article from the Economist. While struggling through the difficult article I guessed that most people without at least two years of college economics would have had a hard time understanding what the author was trying to say with all his economics jargon. Why, I thought, aren’t more journalists and academics writing about economics in a way that anyone interested in the subject, whether he be a high school student or a retired grandfather, can understand. Why don’t more people write about economics in plain english!?

Well, that’s precisely what I’ve been trying to do here for three years. So I decided it was the right name for this blog.

From now on this blog can be accessed by going to the URL: http://www.economicsinplainenglish.com. The original domain will remain intact, however, since over 500 articles on this blog are still used by myself and other Econ teachers and their hyperlinks must remain active. Welker’s Wikinomics is not disappearing, as my homepage will still be located at http://www.welkerswikinomics.com. Only the blog is getting a new name. The wiki, the universe, and the lecture notes will continue to be part of the Welker’s Wikinomics suite of resources available for econ teachers and students.

As always, if you’re an economics teacher who enjoys what you read here and think you may have something to add, please drop me an email at welkerswikinomics@yahoo.com to receive an author account on this blog. Become a regular contributor and I’ll add your face and bio to the “About the Authors” sidebar! How can you pass that up?

A big thanks to everyone who has visited this blog, read our posts and left a comment over the last few years!

2 responses so far

Oct 17 2008

Advice from an economic oracle – buy American stocks now!

Op-Ed Contributor – Buy American. I Am. – NYTimes.com

So Wall Street has recently experienced its worst shocks since the great depression. Every day the Dow Jones is like a roller coaster, DOWN 800 points, then  UP 500 points, then DOWN 200 followed by another rally of 600! In just three weeks the Dow has gone from 11,500 to below 900 points. Surely, the wise thing to do is get OUT of the stock market, right? WRONG! At least, so says the richest man in the world, Warren Buffet, someone who should know a thing or two about smart investing.

Why?

A simple rule dictates my buying: Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful. And most certainly, fear is now widespread, gripping even seasoned investors. To be sure, investors are right to be wary of highly leveraged entities or businesses in weak competitive positions. But fears regarding the long-term prosperity of the nation’s many sound companies make no sense. These businesses will indeed suffer earnings hiccups, as they always have. But most major companies will be setting new profit records 5, 10 and 20 years from now.

Let me be clear on one point: I can’t predict the short-term movements of the stock market. I haven’t the faintest idea as to whether stocks will be higher or lower a month — or a year — from now. What is likely, however, is that the market will move higher, perhaps substantially so, well before either sentiment or the economy turns up. So if you wait for the robins, spring will be over.

A little history here: During the Depression, the Dow hit its low, 41, on July 8, 1932. Economic conditions, though, kept deteriorating until Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in March 1933. By that time, the market had already advanced 30 percent. Or think back to the early days of World War II, when things were going badly for the United States in Europe and the Pacific. The market hit bottom in April 1942, well before Allied fortunes turned. Again, in the early 1980s, the time to buy stocks was when inflation raged and the economy was in the tank. In short, bad news is an investor’s best friend. It lets you buy a slice of America’s future at a marked-down price.

Over the long term, the stock market news will be good. In the 20th century, the United States endured two world wars and other traumatic and expensive military conflicts; the Depression; a dozen or so recessions and financial panics; oil shocks; a flu epidemic; and the resignation of a disgraced president. Yet the Dow rose from 66 to 11,497.

You might think it would have been impossible for an investor to lose money during a century marked by such an extraordinary gain. But some investors did. The hapless ones bought stocks only when they felt comfort in doing so and then proceeded to sell when the headlines made them queasy.

Today people who hold cash equivalents feel comfortable. They shouldn’t. They have opted for a terrible long-term asset, one that pays virtually nothing and is certain to depreciate in value. Indeed, the policies that government will follow in its efforts to alleviate the current crisis will probably prove inflationary and therefore accelerate declines in the real value of cash accounts.

Equities will almost certainly outperform cash over the next decade, probably by a substantial degree. Those investors who cling now to cash are betting they can efficiently time their move away from it later. In waiting for the comfort of good news, they are ignoring Wayne Gretzky’s advice: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.”

I don’t like to opine on the stock market, and again I emphasize that I have no idea what the market will do in the short term. Nevertheless, I’ll follow the lead of a restaurant that opened in an empty bank building and then advertised: “Put your mouth where your money was.” Today my money and my mouth both say equities.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why does holding cash seem like the smart thing to do during periods of volatile stock prices like the last month or so? Why does Mr. Buffet think that holding cash is NOT so smart?
  2. Mr. Buffet’s advice is counter-intuitive to some. Buying more of something that is falling in value (American stocks) may appear unwise… but what is Buffet’s rationale for why buying now may in fact be the smartest thing for an investor to do?
  3. Does the behavior of investors on the stock market reflect the behavior of consumers in a typical product market? In other words, do the laws of supply and demand apply to the stock market? Discuss…

12 responses so far

May 03 2008

A common error – confusing the money market and market for foreign exchange

Last week AP students at Shanghai American School took their final test for the class on the last Macro unit, “International Economics”. The free response question on this test was from Form B of the 2007 exam, which is written for students who take the exam outside of the United States.

Upon grading my students’ tests, I was surprised to see how poorly students did on the FRQ. The most common mistake was confusing the money market with the market for foreign currency. Read below to see the original question, along with my comments on common mistakes and the correct answer.

2007 AP Macroeconomics FRQ #1 (form B)

Assume that Australia and New Zealand are trading partners. Australia’s economy is currently in recession.

(a) Now assume that Australia begins to recover from its recession. Using a correctly labled graph of aggregate demand and aggregate supply for New Zealand, show the impact of Australia’s rising income on each of the following in the short-run.

(i) Aggregate demand in New Zealand. Explain.

(ii) Output in New Zealand

Mr. Welker: Here is where the first common mistake was made. The question asks for an AD/AS showing New Zealand’s economy, NOT Australia’s. As incomes in Australia rise, Aussies will demand more imports from NZ, meaning NZ’s net exports will rise, shifting NZ’s AD curve outward, increasing NZ’s output.

(b) Using a correctly labeled graph of the money market for New Zealand, show the effect of the output change in part (a)(ii) on the following.

(i) Demand for money. Explain

(ii) The nominal interest rate

Mr. Welker: This is the question that almost everyone screwed up on. The most common mistake was confusing NZ’s money market with the foreign exchange market for NZ’s currency. The money market, which the question is asking for, refers to the the money in circulation in New Zealand, the supply of which is determined by NZ’s central bank, the demand for which is determined by the amount of output in NZ and the public’s desire to hold money as an asset. As output increases in NZ due to higher net exports, demand for money will shift out, and if you recall the Y-axis in a money market shows the nominal interest rate, so nominal interest rates will increase as money demand shifts out.

The mistake most people made was misinterpreting the question to be asking about the foreign exchange market for NZ dollars. This market would show the price of NZ dollars in terms of Australian dollars on the Y-axes, the demand for NZ$ by Australians, and the supply of dollars by New Zealanders. This is not what the question is asking for, however, many of you included this diagram, which does not show the nominal interest rate.

(c) Assume that the price level in New Zealand rises. Given your answer to part (b)(ii), explain what will happen to real interest rates.

Mr. Welker: Here’s another question that most people messed up on. The answer is that as nominal interest rates rise while the price level is rising, we don’t know what will happen to real interest rates! Remember, real interest rate = nominal interest rate – inflation rate. Whether real interest rates rise or fall depends on the degree to which nominal interest rates and inflation rise. Therefore, the real interest rate cannot be determined.

(d) Although recovering, Australia remains in recession and its government takes no action. Indicate whether each of the following curves will shift to the left, shift to the right, or remain unchanged in the long run in Australia.

(i) Aggregate supply

(ii) Aggregate demand

Mr. Welker: I was truly shocked to see how many people got this one totally wrong. In fact, I suspect about half of you just guessed on this one, which was a surprise to me because this was something we had emphasized heavily in our class discussions; in fact you had even seen a very similar question in an FRQ a couple of units ago.

The key to knowing what this question is getting at is the phrase “its government takes no action.” This must, therefore, be referring to a “self-correction” scenario, which is based on the neo-classical theory of a vertical long-run aggregate supply curve, made possible by the downward flexibility of wages and prices.

If Australia remains in a recession, high levels of unemployment and low levels of overall spending will put downward pressure on wages and prices. As price levels fall and large number of workers are unemployed, people will begin accepting lower wages, which means input costs for firms will decrease, inducing firms to hire more workers, shifting short-run aggregate supply and output back towards the full-employment level. Since the question makes no mention of any new spending (implied by the “government takes no action” statement, meaning no fiscal or monetary stimulus is employed), there is no impact on aggregate demand.

The question simply says “indicate”, therefore the correct answers are:

(i) Aggregate supply will shift right

(ii) Aggregate demand will remain unchanged

The mistakes made on this FRQ are fairly common and simple mistakes. But this final macro test should serve as a wakeup call to some of you who may have coasted through the last few units. Macroeconomics is the harder of the two AP subjects. Last year’s classes averages .42 points lower on the macro AP exam than the micro, despite having completed Macro more recently.

Over the next 12 days, AP Econ students all over the world need to focus on their review and studies for the AP exams. To help you, I’ve put all of our review materials onto one page here on the blog. Click on the tab at the top of this page that says “Exam Prep”, and there you will find downloadable .pdf study guides for every unit in the course, as well as links to each unit’s wiki over at Welker’s Wikinomics Page. New on the wiki is a “graph bank” containing all of the graphs we’ve learned this year. As part of your exam review, please add titles and descriptions to these graphs by May 8.

10 responses so far

May 03 2008

Welker’s links for 2008-05-02

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