On Current Account Surpluses and the Correction of Global Imbalances
In this paper I analyze the nature of external adjustments in current account surplus countries. I ask whether a realignment of world growth rates -- with Japan and Europe growing faster, and the U.S. growing more slowly -- is likely to solve the current situation of global imbalances. The main findings may be summarized as follows: (a) There is an important asymmetry between current account deficits and surpluses. (b) Large surpluses exhibit little persistence through time. (c) Large and abrupt reductions in surpluses are a rare phenomenon. (d) A decline in GDP growth, relative to long term trend, of 1 percentage point results in an improvement in the current account balance -- higher surplus or lower deficit -- of one quarter of a percentage point of GDP. Taken together, these results indicate that a realignment of global growth -- with Japan and the Euro Zone growing faster, and the U.S. moderating its growth -- would only make a modest contribution towards the resolution of global imbalances. This means that, even if there is a realignment of global growth, the world is likely to need significant exchange rate movements. This analysis also suggests that a reduction in China's (very) large surplus will be needed if global imbalances are to be resolved.
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Published: Cowan, Kevin, Sebastian Edwards, and Rodrigo O Valdes (eds.) Current Account and External Financing, Series on Central Banking, Analysis, and Economic Policies, vol. 12. Santiago: Central Bank of Chile, 2008.