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Posts Tagged ‘current account’

Sterling’s slide

The pound has fallen to its lowest rate against the euro since July 2013 and the lowest rate against the US dollar since 1985. Since August 2015, the pound has depreciated by 23.4% against the euro and 22.2% against the dollar. And since the referendum of 23 June, it has depreciated by 15.6% against the euro and 17.6% against the dollar.

On Sunday 2 October, at the start of the Conservative Party conference, the Prime Minister announced that Article 50, which triggers the Brexit process, would be invoked by the end of March 2017. Worries about what the terms of Brexit would look like put further pressure on the pound: the next day it fell by around 1% and the next day by a further 0.5%.

Then, on 6 October, it was reported that President Hollande was demanding tough Brexit negotiations and the pound dropped significantly further. By 7 October, it was trading at around €1.10 and $1.22. At airports, currency exchange agencies were offering less than €1 per £ (see picture).

With the government implying that Brexit might involve leaving the Single Market, the pound continued falling. On 12 October, the trade-weighted index reached its lowest level since the index was introduced in 1980: below its trough in the depth of the 2008 financial crisis and below the 1993 trough following Britain’s ejection from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism in September 1992.

So just why has the pound fallen so much, both before and after the Brexit vote? (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.) And what are the implications for the economy?

The articles explore the reasons for the depreciation. Central to these are the effects on the balance of payments from a possible decline in inward investment, lower interest rates leading to a net outflow of currency on the financial account, and stimulus measures, both fiscal and monetary, leading to higher imports.

Worries about the economy were occurring before the Brexit vote and this helped to push sterling down in late 2015 and early 2016, as you can see in the chart. This article from The Telegraph of 14 June 2016 explains why.

Despite the short-run effects on the UK economy of the Brexit vote not being as bad as some had predicted, worries remain about the longer-term effects. And these worries are compounded by uncertainty over the Brexit terms.

A lower sterling exchange rate reduces the foreign currency price of UK exports and increases the sterling price of imports. Depending on price elasticities of demand, this should improve the current account of the balance of payments.

These trade effects will help to boost the economy and go some way to countering the fall in investment as businesses, uncertain over the terms of Brexit, hold back on investment in the UK.

Pound Nears Three-Decade Low as May Sets Date for Brexit Trigger Bloomberg, Netty Idayu Ismail and Charlotte Ryan (3/10/16)
Sterling near 31-year low against dollar as May sets Brexit start dat Financial Times, Michael Hunter and Roger Blitz (3/10/16)
Sterling hits three-year low against the euro over Brexit worries The Guardian, Katie Allen (3/10/16)
Pound sterling value drops as Theresa May signals ‘hard Brexit’ at Tory conference Independent, Zlata Rodionova (3/10/16)
Pound falls as Theresa May indicates Brexit date BBC News (3/10/16)
The pound bombs and stocks explode over fears of a ‘hard Brexit’ Business Insider UK, Oscar Williams-Grut (3/10/16)
Pound Will Feel Pain as Brexit Clock Ticks Faster Wall Street Journal, Richard Barley (3/10/16)
British Pound to Euro Exchange Rate’s Brexit Breakdown Slows After Positive Manufacturing PMI Halts Decline Currency Watch, Joaquin Monfort (3/10/16)
7 ways the fall in the value of the pound affects us all Independent (4/10/16)
The pound and the fury: Brexit is making Britons poorer, and meaner The Economist, ‘Timekeeper’ (11/10/16)
Is the pound headed for parity v US dollar and euro? Sydney Morning Herald, Jessica Sier (5/10/16)
Flash crash sees the pound gyrate in Asian trading BBC News (7/10/16)
Flash crash hits pound after Hollande remarks Deutsche Welle (7/10/16)
Sterling mayhem gives glimpse into future Reuters, Swaha Pattanaik (7/10/16)
Sterling takes a pounding The Economist, Buttonwood (7/10/16)
Government must commit to fundamental reform The Telegraph, Andrew Sentance (7/10/16)

Interest & exchange rates data – Statistical Interactive Database Bank of England


  1. Why has sterling depreciated? Use a demand and supply diagram to illustrate your argument.
  2. What has determined the size of this depreciation?
  3. What is meant by the risk premium of holding sterling?
  4. To what extent has the weaker pound contributed to the better economic performance than was expected immediately after the Brexit vote?
  5. What factors will determine the value of sterling over the coming months?
  6. Who gain and who lose from a lower exchange rate?
  7. What is likely to happen to inflation over the coming months? Explain and consider the implications for monetary and fiscal policy.
  8. What is a ‘flash crash’. Why was there a flash crash in sterling on Asian markets on 7 October 2016? Is such a flash crash in sterling likely to occur again?
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Influences on the UK current account

Newspaper headlines this week read that the UK’s balance of trade deficit has widened to £34.8bn, the largest since 2010. And when you exclude services, the trade in goods deficit, at £119.9bn is the largest ever in nominal terms and is also likely to be the largest as a percentage of GDP.

So far so bad. But when you look a little closer, the picture is more mixed. The balance of trade deficit (i.e. on both goods and services) narrowed each quarter of 2014, although the monthly figure did widen in December 2014. In fact the trade in goods deficit increased substantially in December from £9.3bn to £10.2bn.

At first sight the widening of the trade deficit in December might seem surprising, given the dramatic drop in oil prices. Surely, with demand for oil being relatively inelastic, a large cut in oil prices should significantly reduce the expenditure on oil? In fact the reverse happened. The oil deficit in December increased from £598m to £940m. The reason is that oil importing companies have been stockpiling oil while low prices persist. Clearly, this is in anticipation that oil prices will rise again before too long. What we have seen, therefore, is a demand that is elastic in the short run, even though it is relatively inelastic in the medium run.

But the trade deficit is still large. Even when you strip out oil, the deficit in December still rose – from £8.7bn to £9.2bn. There are two main reasons for this deterioration.

The first is a strong pound. The sterling exchange rate index rose by 1.8% in December and a further 0.4% in January. With quantitative easing pushing down the value of the euro and loose monetary policies in China and Australia pushing down the value of their currencies, sterling is set to appreciate further.

The second is continuing weakness in the eurozone and a slowing of growth in some major developing countries, including China. This will continue to dampen the growth in UK exports.

But what of the overall current account? Figures are at present available only up to 2014 Q3, but the picture is bleak (see the chart). As the ONS states:

The current account deficit widened in Q3 2014, to 6.0% of nominal Gross Domestic Product GDP, representing the joint largest deficit since Office for National Statistics (ONS) records began in 1955.

This deterioration in performance can be partly attributed to the recent weakness in the primary income balance [see]. This also reached a record deficit in Q3 2014 of 2.8% of nominal GDP; a figure that can be primarily attributed to a fall in UK residents’ earnings from investment abroad, and broadly stable foreign resident earnings on their investments in the UK

The primary income account captures income flows into and out of the UK economy, as opposed to current transfers (secondary income) from taxes, grants, etc. The large deficit reflects a decline in the holding by UK residents of foreign assets from 92% of GDP in 2008 to 67% by the end of 2014. This, in turn, reflects the poorer rate of return on many of these assets. By contrast, the holdings of UK assets by foreign residents has increased. They have been earning a higher rate of return on these assets than UK residents have on foreign assets. And so, despite UK interest rates having fallen, as the quote above says, foreign residents’ earnings on their holding of UK assets has remained broadly stable.

UK trade deficit last year widest since 2010 BBC News (6/2/15)
UK’s trade deficit widens to 2010 high as consumers take advantage of falling oil The Telegraph, Peter Spence (6/2/15)
UK trade deficit widens to four-year high The Guardian, Katie Allen (6/2/15)
UK trade deficit hits four-year high Financial Times, Ferdinando Giugliano (6/2/15)

Balance of Payments ONS (topic link)
Summary: UK Trade, December 2014 ONS (6/2/15)
Current account, income balance and net international investment position ONS (23/1/15)
Pink Book – Tables ONS


  1. Distinguish between he current account, the capital account and the financial account of the balance of payments.
  2. If the overall balance of payments must, by definition, balance, why does it matter if the following are in deficit: (a) trade in goods; (b) the current account; (b) income flows?
  3. What would cause the balance of trade deficit to narrow?
  4. Discuss what policies the government could pursue to reduce the size of the current account deficit? Distinguish between demand-side and supply-side policies.
  5. Why has the sterling exchange rate index been appreciating in recent months?
  6. What do you think is likely to happen to the sterling exchange rate index in the coming months? Explain.
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Currency wars – a zero-sum game?

One effect of an expansionary monetary policy is a depreciation of the exchange rate. Take the case of countries using a combination of a reduction in central bank interest rates and quantitative easing (QE). A fall in interest rates will encourage an outflow of finance; and part of the money created through quantitative easing will be used to purchase foreign assets. Both create an increased demand for foreign currencies and drive down the exchange rate.

The latest case of expansionary monetary policy is that employed by the ECB. After months of promising to ‘do whatever it takes’ and taking various steps towards full QE, the ECB finally announced a large-scale QE programme on 22 January 2015.

With people increasingly predicting QE and with the ECB reducing interest rates, so the euro depreciated. Between March 2014 and 21 January 2015, the euro depreciated by 20.2% against the dollar and the euro exchange rate index depreciated by 9.7%. With the announced programme of QE being somewhat larger than markets expected, in the week following the announcement the euro fell a further 2.3% against the dollar, and the euro exchange rate index also fell by 2.3%. The euro is now at its lowest level against the US dollar since April 2003 (see chart).

The depreciation of the euro will be welcome news for eurozone exporters. It makes their exports cheaper in foreign currency terms and thus makes their exports more competitive. Similarly Japanese exporters were helped by the depreciation of the yen following the announcement on 31 October 2014 by the Bank of Japan of an increase in its own QE programme. The yen has depreciated by 7.7% against the dollar since then.

But every currency cannot depreciate against other currencies simultaneously. With any bilateral exchange rate, the depreciation of one currency represents an appreciation of the other. So just as the euro and yen have depreciated against the dollar, the dollar has appreciated against the euro and yen. This has made US goods less competitive relative to eurozone and Japanese goods.

The danger is that currency wars will result, with monetary policy being used in various countries to achieve competitive depreciations. Already, the Swiss have been forced, on 15 January, to remove the cap with the euro at SF1 – €0.833. Since then the Swiss franc has appreciated by some 15% to around SF1 – €0.96. Will the Swiss now be forced to relax their monetary policy?

The Danish and Canadian central banks have cut their interest rates, hoping to stem an appreciation of their currencies. On 28 January, the Monetary Authority of Singapore sold Singapore dollars to engineer a depreciation. The Singapore dollar duly fell by the most in over four years.

But are these policies simply beggar-my-neighbour policies? Is it a zero-sum game, where the gains to the countries with depreciating currencies are exactly offset by losses to the those with appreciating ones? Or is there a net gain from overall looser monetary policy at a time of sluggish growth? Or is there a net loss from greater currency volatility, which will create greater uncertainty and dampen cross-border investment? The following article explore the issues.

Massive Devaluation of the Euro Seeking Alpha, Sagar Joshi (26/1/15)
Devaluation and discord as the world’s currencies quietly go to war The Observer (25/1/15)
Why is dollar strong vs. 18 trillion of USA’s debt? Pravda, Lyuba Lulko (26/1/15)
Central Bankers Ramp Up Currency Wars Wall Street Journal, Anjani Trivedi, Josie Cox and Carolyn Cui (28/1/15)
The Raging Currency Wars Across Europe The Market Oracle, Gary_Dorsch (29/1/15)
Why ECB action is likely to stoke global currency wars Financial Times, Ralph Atkins (22/1/15)
Euro slides as ECB launches QE Financial Times (22/1/15)
Will Australia join the Currency Wars? The Daily Reckoning, Australia, Greg Canavan (23/1/15)
Australia’s central bank cuts rates to record low; currency plunges and stocks spike The Telegraph (3/2/15)
Singapore loosens monetary policy Financial Times, Jeremy Grant (28/1/15)
Currency Wars Have a Nuclear Option Bloomberg, Mark Gilbert (12/2/15)


  1. Explain how quantitative easing results in depreciation. What determines the size of the depreciation?
  2. How is the USA likely to react to an appreciation of the dollar?
  3. In the UK, who will benefit and who will lose from the depreciation of the euro?
  4. What are the global benefits and costs of a round of competitive depreciations?
  5. How does the size of the financial account of the balance of payments affect the size of a depreciation resulting from QE?
  6. What determines a country’s exchange-rate elasticity of demand for exports? How does this elasticity of demand affect the size of changes in the current account of the balance of payments following a depreciation?
  7. Might depreciation of their currencies reduce countries’ commitment to achieving structural reforms? Or might it ‘buy them time’ to allow them to introduce such reforms in a more carefully planned way and for such reforms to take effect? Discuss.
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Imbalance of payments

The latest balance of payments data for the UK show that in the final two quarters of 2013 the current account deficit as a percentage of GDP was the highest ever recorded. In quarter 3 it was 5.6% of GDP and in quarter 4 it was 5.4% of GDP. The previous highest quarterly figures were 5.3% in 1988 Q4 and 5.2% in 1989 Q3. The average current account deficit from 1960 to 2013 has been 1.1% of GDP and from 1980 to 2013 has been 1.6% of GDP.

The current account has four major components: the balance on goods, the balance on services, the balance on current transfers and the balance on income flows (e.g. investment income). The chart below shows the annual balances of each of these components, plus the overall current account balance, from 1960 to 2013.

There are large differences in the balances of these four and the differences seem to be widening. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)

Traditionally the balance on goods has been negative. In 2013 Q3 the deficit on goods reached a record 7.3% of GDP. It fell back somewhat in Q4 to 6.5%, still significantly above the average since 2000 of 5.5%. With the economy still recovering slowly, it would normally be expected that the trade deficit would be low. However, the high exchange rate has made it difficult for UK exporters to compete. Also with consumer confidence returning, imports are rising, again boosted by the high exchange rate, which makes imports cheaper.

The services balance, by contrast, is typically in surplus. In the final two quarters of 2013, the surpluses were 4.9% and 5.1% of GDP respectively. These compare with an average of 3.3% since 2000. It seems that the service sector, which includes banking, insurance, consultancy, advertising, accountancy, law, etc., is much more able to compete in a global environment.

The balance of current transfers to and from such bodies as the EU and UN have traditionally been negative, although as a proportion of GDP this has gradually widened in recent years. In 2013 the deficit was 1.7% compared with an average of 1.0% since 2000.

The most dramatic change has been in income flows and particularly those from investment. Before the crash in late 2008, the returns to many of the risky investments abroad made by UK financial institutions were very high. Income flows in the 12 months 2007 Q4 to 2008 Q3 averaged a surplus of 2.8% of GDP. They stayed positive, albeit at lower levels, until 2012 Q1, but then became negative as UK institutions reduced their exposure to overseas investments and as earnings in the UK by overseas investors increased. In the last two quarters of 2013, the deficits on income flows were 1.4% and 2.5% of GDP respectively.

How do these figures accord with the Chancellor’s desire to rebalance the economy towards exports? In terms of services, the export performance is good. In terms of goods, however, exports actually fell in the last two quarters from £78.4bn to £74.8bn. Although imports fell too in the final quarter, there is a danger that, with recovery and a high pound, these could begin to rise rapidly

So should the Bank of England attempt to bring the sterling exchange rate down? After all, the exchange rate index has risen from 79.1 in March 2013 to 85.9 in February 2014 (an appreciation of 8.6%). But if it did want to do so, what could it do? The traditional methods of reducing Bank rate and increasing the money supply are not open to it at the present time: Bank rate, at 0.5%, is already about as low as it could go and the Bank has ruled out any further quantitative easing.

The articles consider the latest balance of payments figures and their implications for the economy and for economic policy

UK current account deficit far bigger than forecast The Guardian, Katie Allen (28/3/14)
UK current account deficit near record high at £22.4bn BBC News (28/3/14)
UK current account gap second widest on record The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (28/3/14)
When will the UK pay its way? BBC News, Robert Peston (28/3/14)
Current account deficit crisis creeping up on UK can no longer be ignored The Guardian, Larry Elliott (30/3/14)

Balance of Payments, Q4 and annual 2013 ONS (28/3/14)
Statistical Interactive Database – interest & exchange rates data Bank of England


  1. If the current account is in deficit, how is the overall balance of payments in balance (i.e. is in neither deficit nor surplus)?
  2. If the current account is in record deficit, why has sterling appreciated over recent months? What effect is this appreciation likely to have on the balance on trade in goods and services?
  3. Why has the balance on investment income deteriorated? In what ways could this be seen as a ‘good thing’?
  4. To what extent do the balance of payments figures show a rebalancing of the economy in the way the Chancellor would like?
  5. What could the Bank of England do to bring about a depreciation of sterling?
  6. What would be the benefits and costs of a depreciation of sterling?
  7. Why do investors overseas seem so willing to lend to the UK, thereby producing a large surplus on the financial account?
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Pound appreciates as chances of more QE decline

In an interview with the Yorkshire Post, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, said that under current circumstances he did not feel that further quantitative easing was justified. He said:

My personal view is, given the recovery has strengthened and broadened, I don’t see a case for quantitative easing and I have not supported it.

In response to his speech, the pound strengthened against the dollar. It appreciated by just over 1 cent, or 0.7%. But why should the likelihood of no further quantitative easing lead to a strengthening of the pound?

The answer lies with people’s anticipation of future interest rates. If there is no further increase in money supply through QE, interest rates are likely to rise as the economy recovers and thus the demand for money rises. A rise in interest rates, in turn, is likely to lead to an inflow of finance into the country, thereby boosting the financial account of the balance of payments. The increased demand for sterling will tend to drive up the exchange rate.

However, an increase in aggregate demand will result in an increase in imports and a likely increase in the balance of trade deficit. Indeed, in July (the latest figures available) the balance of trade deficit rose to £3.085bn from £1.256bn in June. As recovery continues, the balance of trade deficit is likely to deteriorate further. Other things being equal, this would lead to a depreciation of the pound.

So if the pound appreciates, this suggests that the effect on the financial account is bigger than the effect on the current account – or is anticipated to be so. In fact, given the huge volumes of short-term capital that move across the foreign exchanges each day, financial account effects of interest rate changes – actual or anticipated – generally outweigh current account effects.

Yorkshire can reap benefits from turnaround says Mark Carney Yorkshire Post (27/9/13)
Sterling Jumps as BOE Chief Signals No More Bond Buying Wall Street Journal, Nick Cawley and Jason Douglas (27/9/13)
Carney’s Northern Exposure Sends Sterling Soaring Wall Street Journal, David Cottle (27/9/13)
Pound Gains as Carney Sees No Case for QE, Confidence Improves Bloomberg, Anchalee Worrachate & David Goodman (28/9/13)
Exchange Rate Bounces as Strong UK Data Supports Sterling FCF (Future Currency Forecast), Laura Parsons (30/9/13)
Currency briefing: What if the pound sterling has been overbought? iNVEZZ, Tsvyata Petkova (30/9/13)
Pound rises after Carney rejects increasing QE BBC News (27/9/13)
Pound Rises for Fourth Day Versus Euro on Housing, Mortgage Data Bloomberg, Emma Charlton (30/9/13)

$ per £ exchange rate (latest month) XE (You can access other periods and currencies)
Effective exchange rate indices (nominal and real) Bank for International Settlements
Balance of Payments, Q2 2013 Dataset ONS


  1. Explain how quantitative easing affects exchange rates.
  2. What is happening concerning quantitative easing in the USA? How is this likely to affect the exchange rate of the US dollar to sterling; other currencies to sterling?
  3. Why may an increase in the balance of trade deficit lead directly to an appreciation of the exchange rate?
  4. Why is an anticipation of a policy change likely to have more of an effect on exchange rates than the actual policy change itself? Why, indeed, may a policy change have the reverse effect once it is implemented?
  5. Under what circumstances may speculation against exchange rate changes be (a) stabilising; (b) destabilising?
  6. How is quantitative easing (or an anticipation of it) likely to affect each of the main components of the current and financial accounts of the balance of payments?
  7. For what reasons might sterling have been ‘overbought’ and hence be overvalued?
  8. What is meant by the real exchange rate (REER)? Why may reference to the REER suggest that sterling is not currently overvalued?
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Turkish delight melts

Turkey has experienced rapid economic growth in recent years and has attracted large inflows of foreign capital. The chart below illustrates how growth in real GDP in Turkey in most years since 2000 has considerably exceeded that in the OECD as a whole (click here for a PowerPoint). As you can see from the chart, growth in Turkey over the period has averaged 4.5%, while that in the OECD has averaged just 1.8%.

Indeed, Turkish growth has been compared with that of the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China). However, like the BRICs, Turkey has been experiencing slowing growth in the past few months. Indeed, the slowdown has been especially marked in Turkey.

In recent years Turkey has benefited from large inflows of foreign capital. Partly these were direct investment flows, encouraged by a large and rapidly growing internal market, boosted by a rapid expansion of consumer credit, and also by a growing export sector. But to a large extent, especially in recent years, there has been a large rise in portfolio and other investment inflows. This has been encouraged by a large increase in global money supply resulting from policies of quantitative easing in the USA and other developed countries.

But the economic climate has changed. First investors have become worried about the conflict in Syria escalating and this impacting on Turkey. Second Turkey’s large financial account surpluses have allowed it to run large current account deficits and have maintained a high exchange rate. Third the tapering off and possible reversal of quantitative easing have led to recent outflows of finance from various countries perceived as being vulnerable, including Turkey.

The effect of this has been a depreciation of the Turkish lira and upward pressure on inflation. The lira has fallen by 14% since the beginning of 2013 and by nearly 7% since the beginning of August alone.

The question is whether the supply side of the Turkish economy has become robust enough to allow the country to ride out its current difficulties. Will foreign investors have sufficient faith in the long-term potential of the Turkish economy to continue with direct investment, even if short-term financial inflows diminish?

Turkey’s economy faces uncertainties amid possible military intervention in Syria Xinhua, Fu Peng (29/8/13)
Turkey may cut 2014 growth target to 4% Turkish Daily News (8/9/13)
Turkish lira at record low, threatening growth Daily News Egypt (7/9/13)
Turkish lira may need higher interest rates to escape emerging markets rout Reuters, Sujata Rao and Seda Sezer (20/8/13)
Turkey Economic Crisis: Crises from Both Sides Wealth Daily, Joseph Cafariello (9/8/13)
Western financial prescription has made Turkey ill The Observer, Heather Stewart (1/9/13)
Turkish Deputy PM Babacan calm amid economic fluctuations Turkish Daily News (8/9/13)
The Fragile Five BBC News, Linda Yueh (26/9/13)

Economic growth rates (annual) for Turkey, Brazil, Russia, India and China: 2000–13 IMF Economic Outlook Database (April 2013)
Quarterly growth rates of real GDP for OECD countries and selected other countries and groups of countries OECD StatExtracts
Turkey and the IMF IMF
Turkey: data World Bank
Links to Turkish Official Statistics Offstats
Country statistical profile: Turkey OECD Country Statistical Profiles
Spot exchange rate, Turkish Lira into Dollar Bank of England


  1. Why has the Turkish economy experienced such rapid growth in recent years and especially from 2010 to 2012?
  2. Why has Turkish growth slowed over the past year?
  3. Why has “Western financial prescription made Turkey ill”
  4. Why has the Turkish lira depreciated? What has determined the size of this depreciation?
  5. What are the beneficial and adverse effects of this depreciation?
  6. Why must any surplus on the combined financial and capital accounts of the balance of payments be matched by a corresponding deficit on the current account?
  7. How is a tapering off of quantitative easing likely to impact on developing countries? What will determine the size of this impact?
  8. Istanbul has lost its bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games? How is this likely to affect the Turkish economy?
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By-passing the dollar

The US dollar has been used as the international currency for the majority of international trade. Around 85% of foreign-exchange transactions are trades between US dollars and other currencies. As the first article below, from the Wall St Journal, states:

When a South Korean wine wholesaler wants to import Chilean cabernet, the Korean importer buys US dollars, not pesos, with which to pay the Chilean exporter. Indeed, the dollar is virtually the exclusive vehicle for foreign-exchange transactions between Chile and Korea, despite the fact that less than 20% of the merchandise trade of both countries is with the US.

… The dollar is the currency of denomination of half of all international debt securities. More than 60% of the foreign reserves of central banks and governments are in dollars.

But things are gradually changing as countries increasingly by-pass the dollar. Several countries have reached agreements with China to allow companies to exchange their currencies directly in so-called ‘currency swap‘ arrangements (see also). These include Japan, Australia, the UK, France/the eurozone, Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, Chile and Russia. But while these currency swap arrangements apply to current account transactions, there are still considerable controls of currency movements on China’s capital and financial accounts.

So what will be the implications for the USA and for China? What will be the impact on currency and bonds markets? The following articles explore the issues.

Why the Dollar’s Reign Is Near an End Wall Street Journal, Barry Eichengreen (1/3/11)
Beijing Continues Inexorable Push for Internationalisation of the Renminbi iNVEZZ, Alice Young (22/4/13)
RMB: Advance of the renminbi Emerging Markets, Elliot Wilson (4/5/13)
China’s new leaders to quicken yuan reform, but caution remains Reuters, Kevin Yao and Heng Xie (7/5/13)
Japan, China to launch direct yen-yuan trade on June 1 Reuters, Tetsushi Kajimoto (29/5/12)
China and Japan to start direct yen-yuan trade in June BBC News (29/5/12)
BOE Plans to Sign Yuan Currency Swap Deal With China Bloomberg, Fergal O’Brien & Svenja O’Donnell (22/2/13)
Bank of England, PBOC close to RMB/GBP swap agreement Emerging Markets (22/2/13)
China and Brazil sign $30bn currency swap agreement BBC News (27/3/13)
China, Brazil sign trade, currency deal before BRICS summit Reuters, Agnieszka Flak and Marina Lopes (26/3/13)
Direct trading to boost global use of yuan China Daily, Wei Tian (10/4/13)
Paris vies to be yuan hub China Daily, Li Xiang (19/4/13)
France plans currency swap line with China: paper Reuters (12/4/13)
Yuan Replaces the Dollar in China’s Dealings With France, Britain, Australia, as the War-Debt Continues to Destroy US Currency Al-Jazeerah (6/5/13)
China Takes Another Stab At The Dollar, Launches Currency Swap Line With France ZeroHedge, Tyler Durden (13/4/13)


  1. What are the ‘three pillars’ that have supported the dollar’s dominance?
  2. What is changing in the global economy to undermine this dominance?
  3. What will be the impact on the US government and US companies?
  4. What steps has China taken to ‘internationalise’ the renminbi (denominated in yuan)?
  5. Is the role of the euro likely to increase or decrease as an internationally held and used currency?
  6. What dangers are there for investors in holding all their wealth in dollar-denominated assets?
  7. Why may the increasing internationalisation of the euro and renminbi lead to less volatility between them and the dollar?
  8. How will the growing internationalisation of the euro and renminbi benefit eurozone and Chinese banks and internationally trading companies?
  9. What more does China need to do before the renminbi can be regarded as a truly global currency?
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No accounting for trade

The UK economy shrank by 0.3 per cent in the final quarter of 2012. A significant factor in the fall was the UK’s balance of trade, which measures the difference between the value of goods and services exported and those imported. The balance of trade deficit rose in 2012 to £36.2 billion or 2.3 per cent of GDP. If we measure only the balance in goods, the deficit was an eye-watering £106.3 billion – a record high for the UK. The balance of trade remains a drag on British growth.

The balance of payments is a record all the flows of money between a country’s residents and the rest of the world. Inflows represent credits on the balance of payments while outflows represent debits. We focus here on perhaps the best-known component of the overall balance of payments: the current account. The current account comprises three separate accounts. First, there is the balance of trade (in goods and services). It records payments for exports (X) and imports (M). Second, there is net income flows. Net income flows are flows of money between countries in the form of wages, profits and interest. Finally, there is current transfers. Current transfers are transfers of money between countries for the purpose of consumption, including, for instance, a transfer payment by the British government to overseas organisations.

Chart 1 presents the UK’s current account. It is based on data from Balance of Payments Q4 2012 dataset published by the Office for National Statistics. The current account deficit in 2012 was £57.7 billion (up from a deficit of £20.2 billion in 2011). This is the equivalent to 3.7 per cent of GDP (up from a deficit of 1.3 per cent in 2011) and the highest current account deficit since 1989 when it reached 4.6 per cent of GDP. Back in 1989, the UK economy was growing by 2.6 per cent having grown by 5.6 per cent in 1988. In 2012, the UK economy grew by just 0.3 per cent following growth of 1.0 per cent in 2011. The mean average rate growth of the UK economy since 1950 is 2.6 per cent. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)

The net income balance, which while remaining in surplus, worsened significantly. From a surplus of £25.9 billion (1.7 per cent of GDP) in 2011, it fell to a surplus of just £1.6 billion (0.1 per cent of GDP) in 2012. This is largely attributable to a decline in the surplus of direct investment income and, in particular, the earnings abroad of non-bank private corporations. Meanwhile, the deficit on current transfers in 2012 was £23.1 billion, up from £22.0 billion in 2011. This is the highest on record. The current transfers deficit with EU institutions rose in 2012 to £10.5 billion, up by £1 billion on 2011.

The balance of trade deficit too worsened in 2012. The deficit rose from £24.1 billion in 2011 (1.6 per cent of GDP) to £36.2 billion in 2012 (2.3 per cent of GDP). The persistent balance of trade deficit continues to occur despite a persistent surplus on the trade in services. In 2012, the balance of trade surplus in services was £70 billion (4.6 per cent of GDP). As Chart 2 shows, the UK now has a record deficit in the balance of trade in goods. This was down from £76.1 billion in 2011 (5 per cent of GDP). (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)

The last time the UK ran a surplus on the balance of trade in goods was back in 1982. Since 1983, the average UK balance of trade deficit in goods has been the equivalent of 3.67 per cent of GDP. Over the same period, the UK has run a balance of trade surplus in services of 2.37 per cent. The figures point very clearly to the work to be done if we are to see a rebalancing of the industrial composition of the UK economy.

Statistical Bulletin: Balance of Payments, Q4 2012 ONS, 27 March 2013
Balance of Payments, Q4 2012 dataset ONS, 27 March 2013

Fasten your seat belts – a balance of payments crisis looms Telegraph, Jeremy Warner 27/3/13)
Britain, the world and the end of the free lunch? BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (27/3/13)
March of the makers? Balance of payments figures make dismal reading Guardian, Larry Elliott (27/3/13)
Britain’s current account deficit at worst level since 1989 Guardian, Phillip Inman (27/3/13)
Pound fears as current account deficit jumps to near 25 per cent high Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (27/3/13)
Current account deficit highest since 1989 Financial Times, Claire Jones (27/3/13)


  1. What does the balance of payments measure?
  2. In explaining what the current account of the balance of payments measures, distinguish between the three principal accounts comprising the current account.
  3. Why might we expect the current account to worsen when economic growth is strongest and improve when economic growth is weakest? Is this what we observe in the UK?
  4. The UK has experienced a persistent current account deficit since the early 1980s. What might be some of the contributory factors to this persistent deficit?
  5. How might we expect a country’s exchange rate to be affected by movements on the balance of payments?
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A balancing act

The UK economy is suffering from a lack of aggregate demand. Low spending in real terms is preventing the economy from growing. A simple solution would seem to be to stimulate aggregate demand through fiscal policy, backed up by even looser monetary policy. But this is easier said than done and could result in undesirable consequences in the medium term.

If increased borrowing were to be used to fund increased government expenditure and/or cuts in taxes, would any resulting growth be sufficient in the medium term to reduce the public-sector deficit below the initial level through automatic fiscal stabilisers? And would the growth be sustainable? The answer to this second question depends on what happens to the supply side of the economy. Would there be an increase in aggregate supply to match the increase in aggregate demand?

This second question has led many economists to argue that we need to see a rebalancing of the economy. What is needed is an increase in investment and exports, rather than an increase in just consumer expenditure funded by private borrowing and government current expenditure funded by public borrowing.

But how will exports and investment be stimulated? As far as exports are concerned, it was hoped that the depreciation of the pound since 2008 would give UK exporters a competitive advantage. Also domestic producers would gain a competitive advantage in the UK from imports becoming more expensive. But the current account deficit has actually deteriorated. According to the EU’s AMECO database, in 2008 the current account deficit was 1% of GDP; in 2012 it was 3.7%. It would seem that UK producers are not taking sufficient advantage of the pound’s depreciation, whether for exports or import substitutes.

As far as investment is concerned, there are two major problems. The first is the ability to invest. This depends on financing and things such as available land and planning regulations. The second is the confidence to invest. With not little or no growth in consumer demand, there is little opportunity for the accelerator to work. And with forecasts of sluggish growth and austerity measures continuing for some years, there is little confidence in a resurgence in consumer demand in the future. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the above chart. Note that the 2013 plots are based on AMECO forecasts.)

So hope of a rebalancing is faint at the current time. Hence the arguments for an increase in government capital expenditure that we looked at in the last blog post (The political dynamite of calm economic reflection). The problem and the options for government are considered in the following articles.

Budget 2013: Chancellor’s rebalancing act BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (11/3/13)
Why George Osborne is failing to rebalance the economy The Guardian, Larry Elliott (17/3/13)
Economy fails to ‘rebalance’ Financial Times, Sarah O’Connor (27/2/13)
Analysis – Long haul ahead for Britain’s struggling economy Reuters, William Schomberg (3/3/13)
Can banks be forced to lend more? BBC News, Robert Peston (12/3/13)
Budget 2013: What the commentators are saying BBC News (13/3/13)

UK Trade, January 2013 (ONS) (12/3/13)
Business investment, Q4 2012 ONS (27/2/13)


  1. Draw a diagram to illustrate the effects of a successful policy to increase both aggregate demand and aggregate supply. What will determine the effect on the output gap?
  2. For what reasons has the UK’s current account deteriorated over the past few years while those of the USA and the eurozone have not?
  3. Using ONS data, find out what has happened to the UK’s balance of trade in (a) goods and (b) services over the past few years and explain your findings.
  4. Why are firms reluctant to invest at the moment? What policy measures could the government adopt to increase investment?
  5. With interest rates so low, why don’t consumers borrow and spend more, thereby aiding the recovery?
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Yuan, two, three: the slow appreciation of the Chinese currency

The USA has complained for a long time now that the Chinese currency is undervalued. This makes it hard for American domestic firms to compete with cheap Chinese imports and for US exporters to sell to China. This was a major talking point at the G20 conference in Korea in November 2010: see Seoul traders and the following clip from Reuters: Obama pressures China at G20.

So is the yuan undervalued and, if so, has there been any appreciation to reduce the degree of undervaluation? In 2005, the yuan was pegged at $0.12 (or $1 = ¥8.28). In July 2005 the peg was relaxed and the yuan has appreciated. By mid-December 2010, the yuan was trading at $0.15 (or $1 = ¥6.66) – a 25% appreciation since 2005. In real terms the appreciation has been greater. Chinese inflation is above US inflation. Latest figures for Chinese inflation show consumer prices rising by an annual rate of 5.1%. This compares with 1.2% in the USA. This makes the real appreciation greater.

But despite this appreciation, the USA maintains that the Chinese currency is still considerably undervalued. Estimates for this undervaluation are around 40%. In its latest ‘Big Mac Index’, The Economist calculates this undervaluation at 41.2%. Links to the relevant data are given below. Read the articles and then use the data to answer the questions.

China’s soaring inflation could hit UK shoppers The Telegraph, Richard Tyler (11/12/10)
China says November inflation rises to 5.1 percent Bloomberg, Cara Anna (11/12/10)
Jump in China inflation keeps focus on tightening Reuters, Aileen Wang and Simon Rabinovitch (11/12/10)
China inflation rise fastest since July 2008, exceeds market forecast The Australian, Aaron Back (11/12/10)
China’s top economic planner says December CPI likely below 5% Xinhuanet (11/12/10)
Yuan rises vs dollar after strong trade data The Economic Times of India (11/12/10)
Who wins if Yuan is significantly revalued? International Business Times (12/12/10)
Currency war reveals growing global fissures AsiaOne (11/12/10)
How China’s Inflation Policy Will Help the Yuan / Dollar Exchange Rate Seeking Alpha, Ed Dolan (29/11/10)

Monthly Data Chinese National Bureau of Statistics
US Inflation Rate in Percent for Jan 2000-Present
BIS effective exchange rate indices Bank for International Settlements
Spot Exchange Rates Bank of England
IMF World Economic Ourlook Data Find The Best
Economic Data freely available online The Economics Network
The Big Mac Index The Economist


  1. Using Bank for International Settlements data above (broad indices), plot the nominal and real exchange rate indices for the US dollar and the yuan from 2005 to the present day. How much have (a) the nominal and (b) the real yuan exchange rate indices appreciated against the dollar exchange rate indices? (Note: you can use the Excel data to plot all four series on the same diagram.)
  2. Why has the Chinese rate of inflation risen?
  3. How are the anti-inflationary policies being considered by the Chinese authorities likely to impact on (a) the yuan exchange rate (b) the Chinese current account?
  4. In what ways do the Chinese authorities intervene in the foreign exchange market?
  5. What are the implications of the People’s Bank of China increasing the amount of yuan that can be traded on currency markets and increasing the amount of yuan-denominated debt?
  6. What are meant by purchasing power parity (PPP) exchange rates? Is the Big Mac index a good guide to the degree to which a currency is under- or overvalued?
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