Current account

Current account
Cumulative Current Account Balance 1980–2008 (US$ Billions) based on the International Monetary Fund data

In economics, the current account is one of the two primary components of the balance of payments, the other being the capital account. The current account is the sum of the balance of trade (exports minus imports of goods and services), net factor income (such as interest and dividends) and net transfer payments (such as foreign aid).

The current account balance is one of two major measures of the nature of a country's foreign trade (the other being the net capital outflow). A current account surplus increases a country's net foreign assets by the corresponding amount, and a current account deficit does the reverse. Both government and private payments are included in the calculation. It is called the current account because goods and services are generally consumed in the current period.[1]

The balance of trade is the difference between a nation's exports of goods and services and its imports of goods and services, if all financial transfers, investments and other components are ignored. A Nation is said to have a trade deficit if it is importing more than it exports.

Positive net sales abroad generally contributes to a current account surplus; negative net sales abroad generally contributes to a current account deficit. Because exports generate positive net sales, and because the trade balance is typically the largest component of the current account, a current account surplus is usually associated with positive net exports. This however is not always the case with secluded economies such as that of Australia featuring an income deficit larger than its trade deficit.[2]

The net factor income or income account, a sub-account of the current account, is usually presented under the headings income payments as outflows, and income receipts as inflows. Income refers not only to the money received from investments made abroad (note: investments are recorded in the capital account but income from investments is recorded in the current account) but also to the money sent by individuals working abroad, known as remittances, to their families back home. If the income account is negative, the country is paying more than it is taking in interest, dividends, etc.

The various subcategories in the income account are linked to specific respective subcategories in the capital account, as income is often composed of factor payments from the ownership of capital (assets) or the negative capital (debts) abroad. From the capital account, economists and central banks determine implied rates of return on the different types of capital. The United States, for example, gleans a substantially larger rate of return from foreign capital than foreigners do from owning United States capital.

In the traditional accounting of balance of payments, the current account equals the change in net foreign assets. A current account deficit implies a paralleled reduction of the net foreign assets.

current account = changes in net foreign assets


Reducing current account deficits

Action to reduce a substantial current account deficit usually involves increasing exports (goods going out of a country and entering abroad countries) or decreasing imports (goods coming from a foreign country into a country). Firstly, this is generally accomplished directly through import restrictions, quotas, or duties (though these may indirectly limit exports as well), or subsidizing exports. Influencing the exchange rate to make exports cheaper for foreign buyers will indirectly increase the balance of payments. Also, Currency wars, a phenomenon evident in post recessionary markets is a protectionist policy, whereby countries devalue their currencies to ensure export competitiveness. Secondly, current account deficit are reduced by promoting investor friendly environment, i.e., foreign direct investment (FDI), foreign institutional investors (FII), the income from these foreign investments positively contributes to current account. Thirdly, adjusting government spending to favor domestic suppliers is also effective.

Less obvious methods to reduce a current account deficit include measures that increase domestic savings (or reduced domestic borrowing), including a reduction in borrowing by the national government.

The Pitchford thesis

A current account deficit is not always a problem. The Pitchford thesis states that a current account deficit does not matter if it is driven by the private sector.

A Current Account Deficit largely consists of repayments of public debt, and that debt consists of many individual transactions. Pitchford asserts that since each of these transactions were individually considered financially sound when they were made, their aggregate effect (the Current Account Deficit) is also sound.

Some feel that this theory has held true for the Australian economy, which has had a persistent current account deficit, yet has experienced economic growth for the past 18 years (1991–2009).

Interrelationships in the balance of payments

Absent changes in official reserves, the current account is the mirror image of the sum of the capital and financial accounts. One might then ask: Is the current account driven by the capital and financial accounts or is it vice versa? The traditional response is that the current account is the main causal factor, with capital and financial accounts simply reflecting financing of a deficit or investment of funds arising as a result of a surplus. However, more recently some observers have suggested that the opposite causal relationship may be important in some cases. In particular, it has controversially been suggested that the United States current account deficit is driven by the desire of international investors to acquire U.S. assets (See Ben Bernanke, William Poole links below [which ones exactly? missing reference number/link]). However, the main viewpoint undoubtedly remains that the causative factor is the current account and that the positive financial account reflects the need to finance the country's current account deficit.

U.S. account deficits

Since 1989, the current account deficit of the United States have been increasingly large, reaching close to 7% of the GDP in 2006. New evidences, however, suggest that the U.S. current account deficits are being mitigated by positive valuation effects.[3] That is, the U.S. assets overseas are gaining in value relative to the domestic assets held by foreign investors. The U.S. net foreign assets therefore is not deteriorating one to one with the current account deficits. The most recent experience has reversed this positive valuation effect, however, with the US net foreign asset position deteriorating by more than two trillion dollars in 2008.[4] This was due primarily to the relative under-performance of domestic ownership of foreign assets (largely foreign equities) to foreign ownership of domestic assets (largely US treasuries and bonds).

See also

US specific:

  • FRED (Federal Reserve Economic Data)
  • U.S. public debt


  1. ^ Ecological Economics: Principles And Applications; Herman E. Daly, Joshua Farley; Island Press, 2003
  2. ^ "Trade deficit the key to avoiding debt trap". Sydney Morning Herald. 4 June 2005. Retrieved 24 May 2010. 
  3. ^ Current Account Sustainability and Relative Reliability
  4. ^ US net foreign assets

External links

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