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Posts Tagged ‘current account deficit’

A falling pound – rebalancing the balance of payments

In a recent blog, Falling sterling – bad for some; good for others, we looked at the depreciation of sterling following the Brexit vote. We saw how it will have beneficial effects for some, such as exporters, and adverse effects for others, such as consumers having to pay a higher price for imports and foreign holidays. The article linked below examines these effects in more depth.

Just how much the quantity of exports will increase depends on two main things. The first is the amount by which the foreign currency price falls. This depends on what exporters choose to do. Say the pound falls from €1.30 to €1.18. Do exporters who had previously sold a product selling in the UK for £100 and in the eurozone for €130, now reduce the euro price to €118? Or do they put it down by less – say, to €125, thereby earning £105.93 (£(125/1.18)). Their sales would increase by less, but their profit margin would rise.

The second is the foreign currency price elasticity of demand for exports in the foreign markets. The more elastic it is, the more exports will rise for any given euro price reduction.

It is similar with imports. How much the sales of these fall depends again on two main things. The first is the amount by which the importing companies are prepared to raise sterling prices. Again assume that the pound falls from €1.30 to €1.18 – in other words, the euro rises from 76.92p (£1/1.3) to 84.75p (£1/1.18). What happens to the price of an import to the UK from the eurozone whose euro price is €100? Does the importer raise the price from £76.92 to £84.75, or by less than that, being prepared to accept a smaller profit margin?

The second is the sterling price elasticity of demand for imports in the UK. The more elastic it is, the more imports will fall and, probably, the more the importer will be prepared to limit the sterling price increase.

The article also looks at the effect on aggregate demand. As we saw in the previous blog, a depreciation boosts aggregate demand by increasing exports and curbing imports. The effects of this rise in aggregate demand depends on the degree of slack in the economy and the extent, therefore, that (a) exporters and those producing import substitutes can respond in terms of high production and employment and (b) other sectors can produce more as multiplier effects play out.

Finally, the article looks at the effect of the depreciation of sterling on asset prices. UK assets will be worth less in foreign currency terms; foreign assets will be worth more in sterling. Just how much the prices of internationally traded assets, such as shares and some property, will change depends, again, on their price elasticities of demand. In terms of assets, there has been a gain to UK balance sheets from the depreciation. As Roger Bootle says:

Whereas the overwhelming majority of the UK’s liabilities to foreigners are denominated in sterling, the overwhelming bulk of our assets abroad are denominated in foreign currency. So the lower pound has raised the sterling value of our overseas assets while leaving the sterling value of our liabilities more or less unchanged.

How a lower pound will help us to escape cloud cuckoo land, The Telegraph, Roger Bootle (31/7/16)


  1. What determines the amount that exporters from the UK adjust the foreign currency price of their exports following a depreciation of sterling?
  2. What determines the amount by which importers to the UK adjust the sterling price of their products following a depreciation of sterling?
  3. What determines the amount by which sterling will depreciate over the coming months?
  4. Distinguish between stabilising and destabilising speculation? How does this apply to exchange rates and what determines the likelihood of there being destabilising speculation against sterling exchange rates?
  5. How is UK inflation likely to be affected by a depreciation of sterling?
  6. Why does Roger Bootle believe that the UK has been living in ‘cloud cuckoo land’ with respect to exchange rates?
  7. Why has the UK managed to sustain a large current account deficit over so many years?
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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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