Tag Archives: BPM6

Federal Government And Regional Balance Of Payments

The Financial Times has a column titled Europe’s Fiscal Union Envy Is Misguided. The author echoes a recent article in The New York Times (referred here in my blog). According to the FT columnist, in the United States,

… The bulk of the risk-sharing happens through credit and capital markets – that is to say, private lending, borrowing and investment returns do most of the job of evening out regional shocks.


… The best thing the eurozone can do to promote risk-sharing is to stop flirting with its own disintegration: as long as investors suspect politicians might let the currency unravel, they will hunker down behind national borders. Next, get cracking on developing the capital markets union – where there is much more reason to envy the Americans.

In addition, the FT author presents the following graph.

FT Image 20 July 2015Now, there are several things wrong with this. It’s true that risk-sharing happens through credit and capital markets, the argument ignores that fiscal transfers improve the net indebtedness of regions. Financial markets may improve risks by the way they work, but they cannot change net indebtedness of regions in significant ways. Borrowing is not comparable to fiscal transfers. It’s vague what “capital income and insurance flows” is.

Let’s see how a federal system works.

There are regions with local governments but there is also a federal government which raises taxes from economic units of all regions and spends on the units. Some regions will be net recipients of such flows of funds — the government expenditure toward these regions is higher than what it receives in taxes — while others will pay more taxes than what they receive from the government. These needn’t sum to zero, as the federal government may be in a deficit.

There is one peculiar thing in the way such accounting is done. The federal government is outside all regions when studying balance of payments of each region. However for the whole group, the federal government is inside. The Sixth Edition of the IMF’s Balance Of Payments And International Investment Position Manual (BPM6) does this in a similar way for monetary unions, such as for the Euro Area. In that case, the European Central Bank and the European Parliament and other such supranational institutions are considered to be outside each nation when nations’ balance of payments statistics is produced, but inside when the balance of payments of the whole region is studied.

Now, some regions may see an improvement in their balance of payments compared to the case where there is no federal government. There are four kinds of flows which are important here when thinking about the current account balance of payments of a region:

  1. Exports
  2. Imports
  3. Federal government expenditures and transfers
  4. Federal taxes and transfers.

Of course, expenditure of the federal government in the region itself may be thought of as an export, so exports in the list above is meant to exclude that and include transactions such as a private sector producer selling a car to a household in another region.

So one can roughly identify surplus regions as ones which have higher exports than imports in the definition above and others as deficit regions. These transactions of course also affect the capital and financial accounts of the balance of payments and the “regional investment position”.

Usually, one thinks of “fiscal transfers” as affecting aggregate demand. But from the above analysis, it should be clear that it also affects the regional investment position. Economic units in deficit regions also see an improvement in their net asset position. Economic units in deficit regions in aggregate will typically receive more federal government payments than what they send in taxes. The counterpart to this in the capital and financial account of the balance of payments is an improvement in their net acquisition of financial assets and net incurrence of liabilities, as compared to the case where there is no federal government. This is turn improves the regional investment position.

Of course there is still a possibility that the private sector of a union with a federal government as a whole may turn unsustainable but at least there is a regional mechanism of improvement compared to the case when there is no federal government.

To summarize, the point of the above analysis is that the financial sector as a whole cannot achieve this on its own. It takes a federal government to not only affect demand in all regions but also keep their debts in check. The workings of finances of a federal government affects the asset and liability positions of any region as a whole. The financial sector cannot take up the task of a federal government.

Balance Of Payments Crises

Phil Pilkington takes an issue with Sergio Cesaratto on the usage of the phrase “balance-of-payments crisis” on problems of the Euro Area.

Phil’s argument is that typically nations facing balance of payments problems need foreign currency and it manifests itself as a depreciation of the domestic currency but in the Euro Area this isn’t the case (because the exchange rates are fixed irrevocably between the Euro Area nations by the national central banks and the ECB). So the usage of the phrase “balance-of-payments crisis” is an abuse of language.

Now, to be short my argument that there is nothing wrong with the usage is because of the definition of what “balance-of-payments” actually is. Here is why:

A balance of payments transaction is a transaction between residents and non-residents. It is not relevant in which currency the transaction really is. So if you were a U.S. resident and if I as an Indian pay you $1 in New York in person, it is still a balance of payments transaction from the viewpoint of the United States. (of course if I own a firm in the United States which pays you then it is not a balance of payments transaction because the firm would be a resident).

In this way it becomes clear that some Euro Area nations have a balance of payments financing problem and since it reached a crisis level, the problem can be classified as a balance of payments crisis even though there is no exchange rate which has collapsed.

The nations which were/are in troubled had difficulties because they had huge current account deficits and as a result became indebted to the rest of the Euro Area. This became unsustainable and turned into a crisis. And both borrowers and lenders are to be blamed.

Since these nations had huge indebtedness to the rest of the Euro Area, they had troubles borrowing and refinancing their debts with foreigners and still have.

So I do not know why someone can take an issue with the phrase “balance-of-payments crisis”.

Except for the huge depreciation of the domestic currency, the Euro Area economic dynamics resembles a typical balance-of-payments crisis in all other ways. There is deflation of domestic demand, financial instability, high unemployment, increase in poverty and decrease in happiness and standard of living etc. There is international help in both cases.

Once again. A BoP transaction is between residents and non-residents. (See 2008 SNA, and BPM6 on this). A BoP crisis hence is a crisis in which borrowing and refinancing existing debt from non-residents has become difficult and is at crisis levels.  Whatever a country such as Portugal does at the moment, some units will be left indebted to the rest of the world/Euro Area. This is because liabilities are greater than financial assets and the difference is the net indebtedness to foreigners. Whatever new debts are created are equal in value to newly created financial assets. So the arithmetic dictates foreigners should be relied upon. The one qualification is that Portugal significantly improves its net exports but that is the same as saying its balance of payments is improving.

So anyone saying it is not a “balance-of-payments crisis” is fooling himself/herself.

Mosler And His Moslerisms

A few readers/commenters of my blog brought attention to a video of Warren Mosler where he claims that “there is no such thing as a capital flight” – presumably for a nation with a “sovereign currency” with the implication that a Euro Area nations can simply leave the Euro and adopt their original currency without a fear of capital flight post the event.

(Why have capital controls then, if that’s the case?)

Link @18:30

This claim can be easily dismissed by simple balance of payments analysis.

For this I use the IMF’s Balance of Payments Manual (BPM6). First lets look at the format of the BPM6’s numerical example.

The example is below:

(click to enlarge)

Roughly Mosler’s argument is that if a foreigner sells assets denominated in the domestic currency, some other foreigner would need to buy it.

He gives a Bretton-Woods anti-analogy where – presumably – an official foreign creditor can demand gold for conversion and repatriate it home by ship. And that since official convertibility to gold is suspended, there is no capital flight according to this mini-story.

To see there is capital flight, one needs to look at the foreign exchange market microstructure. By the way, the Neochartalists erroneously tend to treat banks as brokers (as opposed to dealers) in the foreign exchange markets. Let us say a foreigner – perhaps a financial institution – with “portfolio investment” in the country in question liquidates assets in the domestic currency and exchanges it at a domestic bank (domestic with respect to the country we are discussing). This “order flow” leaves the bank with a short position in foreign currency which it will try to eliminate. This will lead to a cascading effect because the foreign dealer it may want to offload its position will react itself and hence a series of transactions in the fx markets – leading to a depreciation of the currency.

It may happen that the currency depreciation may bring in an order flow in the opposite direction – thereby leading to a quasi-equilibrium. However if the general expectations is such that the currency may depreciate further then it is hard. If such expectations are formed, there may be even more capital ouflow!

It is precisely here that the central bank may intervene and sell foreign reserves – thereby helping the dealers (both domestic and foreign to offload their undesired positions). So recently there was news of intervention by the Reserve Bank of India in the fx markets. (minor technicality: the reduction of domestic banks’ settlement balances due to the settlement of central bank fx sales will lead to a “fine tuning reverse operation” by the central bank)

So how does the whole thing look in the balance of payments? The answer is very simple: assuming foreigners sold 100 units of assets – minus 100 due to liquidation of domestic assets and minus 100 due to sale of reserve assets.

So that’s capital flight.

And … like that … it’s gone!

Updated: 22 May 2012 at 4:35pm GMT (corrected discussion on central bank open market operations)

Balance Of Payments: Part 2 – Double Versus Quadruple Entry Bookkeeping

Some time back I had started with the first part of a series of posts on this topic: see Balance Of Payments: Part 1. From the same post, here’s from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ manual Balance of Payments and International Investment Position, Australia, Concepts, Sources and Methods, 1998

(click to enlarge)

So we have the current account, the financial and the international investment position at the beginning and end of each accounting period. In addition we have, revaluations on assets and liabilities. These arise due to change in the value of assets (such as rise in stock markets) and due to movement of the exchange rate or both.

Also, textbooks use a slightly different language than official statistics and manuals. Textbooks simply use the phrase capital account when they mean the financial account.

I aim to go into each of this and the behaviour of institutions who are involved in the whole process and how it leads to changes in assets and liabilities of all sectors and the consequences. We will see how endemic current account deficits act as a hemorrhage in the circular flow of national income as Wynne Godley would put it and decides the fate of nations as Anthony Thirlwall may have it.

To really appreciate, one needs to have a strong methodology for studying this. One way is to use G&L’s transactions flow matrix but it can get complicated in case of two nations. Needless to say, from a modeling perspective, it is more useful than the usual way of studying balance of payments. However, for appreciating G&L methodology one needs to first understand the usual way of studying this.

Double Entry Versus Quadruple Entry Bookkeeping

In contrast to national accounts, Balance of Payments is based on double entry bookkeeping. Here’s from the IMF’s Balance of Payments And International Investment Position Manual (BPM6), pg 9:

The balance of payments is a statistical statement that summarizes transactions between residents and nonresidents during a period. It consists of the goods and services account, the primary income account, the secondary income account, the capital account, and the financial account. Under the double-entry accounting system that underlies the balance of payments, each transaction is recorded as consisting of two entries and the sum of the credit entries and the sum of the debit entries is the same.

In contrast, national accounts as per SNA2008 or G&L’s way of doing it uses quadruple entry bookkeeping who point out in their book Monetary Economics that:

… Copeland pointed out that, ‘because moneyflows transactions involve two transactors, the social accounting approach to moneyflows rests not on a double-entry system but on a quadruple-entry system’. Knowing that each of the columns and each of the rows must sum to zero at all times, it follows that any alteration in one cell of the matrix must imply a modification to at least three other cells. The transactions matrix used here provides us with an exhibit which allows to report each financial flow both as an inflow to a given sector and as an outflow to the other sector involved in the transaction.

G&L point out that even Hyman Minsky was aware of this. Here’s from the article The Essential Characteristics of Post-Keynesian Economics (page 20):

The structure of an economic model that is relevant for a capitalist economy needs to include the interrelated balance sheets and income statements of the units of the economy. The principle of double entry book keeping, where financial assets are liabilities on another balance sheet and where every entry on   balance sheet has a dual in another entry on the same balance sheet, means that every transaction in assets requires four entries.

The System of National Accounts 2008 (2008 SNA) says (page 21):

In principle, the recording of the consequences of an action as it affects all units and all sectors is based on a principle of quadruple entry accounting, because most transactions involve two institutional units. Each transaction of this type must be recorded twice by each of the two transactors involved. For example, a social benefit in cash paid by a government unit to a household is recorded in the accounts of government as a use under the relevant type of transfers and a negative acquisition of assets under currency and deposits; in the accounts of the household sector, it is recorded as a resource under transfers and an acquisition of assets under currency and deposits. The principle of quadruple entry accounting applies even when the detailed from-whom-to-whom relations between sectors are not shown in the accounts. Correctly recording the four transactions involved ensures full consistency in the accounts.

Simple example: your and my favourite: loans make deposits. The following is a transaction where a household has borrowed some funds from the banking sector:


Introduction To Current Transactions

I mentioned that in recording transactions between residents and nonresidents and presenting it as balance of payments, national accountants use double entry bookkeeping (as opposed to quadruple), so any transaction in the current account necessarily involves another entry in the financial account (ignoring barter and accidental cancellations). However, the opposite is not the case: a transaction on the financial account will lead to another entry in the financial account and not directly in the current account. A purchase of US equities by a UK resident cannot be said to cause or increase the US current account deficit.

One example: if you are are US citizen travelling to the UK and have pay for coffee at the London airport by paying in Federal Reserve notes, it will give rise to an entry in the current account (credit from the perspective of the UK balance of payments) and a debit (increase in assets of UK residents: change in currency notes). This is just transaction among thousands and the question is how is all this to be recorded and more importantly (later) what does it tell us.

Here’s how a standard balance of payments table looks like (note: this does not include international investment position)

(source: UK Pink Book 2011; click to enlarge)

We will go over details in the next post in this series. For now let us see how this looks for the example presented earlier: A US traveller pays $10 for coffee at the London Heathrow airport with Federal Reserve currency notes. Assuming the current exchange rate, the following (double) entries need to be included in the UK balance of payments:


£ CreditsDebits
Current Account
Goods and Services6.328
Financial Account
Bank Deposits, Foreign Currency Assets6.328



This is a simple example – hardly needing so much background and information but in the next post in this series, we will look at complicated examples where intuitions can easily go wrong. If the above were the only transaction between UK and US residents in the accounting period (quarter/year), this will also change the US indebtedness to the UK by £6.328 or $10 and this will be shown in the international investment positions of the UK and the US. If the exchange rate had moved from the start of the period, revaluations would need to be done to record the closing stocks of assets and liabilities.

Updated: 24 May 2012 at 6:40pm GMT (corrected title spelling)

Balance Of Payments: Part 1

This is the first part of a series of posts I intend to write on the “rest of the world” accounts in National Accounts. This blog is about looking at economies from the point of view of National Accounts, Cambridge Keynesianism and Horizontalism. While various descriptions of balance of payments exist, most of them simply end up making money exogeneity assumption somewhere in the description!

In my view a careful description of balance of payments offers great insights on how economies work and what money really is. It is impossible to understand the success and failures of nations without understanding the external sector.

A description in terms of stocks and flows is the most appropriate for macroeconomics. Fortunately, national accountants have a good systematic approach to this.

Consider the following transaction: a government (or a corporation) raises funds in the international markets. The buyers can be residents as well as non-residents. The currency of the new issuance can be domestic as well as foreign. Does this by itself increase the net indebtedness of the nation as a whole?

The answer is No, and can be a bit surprising to the reader because the answer is the same whether the currency is domestic or foreign. The trick in the question is that an issuance of debt increases the assets and liabilities of the issuer!

(Note: the question was about the transaction, not on what happens after this)

Gross assets and liabilities vis-à-vis the rest of the world can be a bit more complicated and we need a more systematic analysis.

Consider another transaction. A government is redeeming a 7% bond with a notional of 1bn with semi-annual coupons. How much does the net indebtedness of the country change? Assuming that all the lenders are in the rest of the world sector, the net indebtedness changes by 35m. Does not matter if the currency is domestic or not. Why 35m? Because the semi-annual coupon has to be paid on redemption and the coupons are interest payments and this is recorded in the current account and this increases the net indebtedness. The principal payment cancels out the earlier liability – the bonds.

So between the start and the end of the period, foreigners earned 35m and this increased the net indebtedness of the nation who paid the interest. Of course there are other transactions which can cancel this out.

In another scenario, if all the bond holders were residents, the net indebtedness does not change – whether the bonds were in domestic currency or not.

The above was about financing. What about imports and exports? Exports provide income to a nation or a region as a whole and imports are opposite. If a nation is a net importer (more appropriately running a current account deficit), this means its expenditure is higher than income. When expenditure is higher than income, this has to be financed and this is via net borrowing. 

There is one important point worth stressing. Many people – including many economists (most?) – treat liabilities to foreigners in domestic currency as not really a liability at all – at least the government’s liabilities. The reason provided is that while usually the government is forbidden from making an overdraft at the central bank or have limited powers in using central bank credit, it can end up making a higher use of it than the limits allowed – in extreme conditions. This in my opinion, is a silly intuition.

While it is true that the governments of most nations (with exceptions such as the Euro Area governments) can make a draft at the central bank and this offers the government protection to tide over extreme emergencies, the government has to directly or indirectly finance the current account deficits and this can prove unsustainable. Despite this there is an advantage in having indebtedness to foreigners in the domestic currency because:

An indebtedness to foreigners in domestic currency prevents revaluation losses on the debt if foreigners continue holding the debt and if the currency depreciates against foreign currencies. If the debt is denominated in a foreign currency and if it depreciates, more income needs to be earned from abroad to service the principal and interest payments.

The discussion can be confusing because of the relative ease with which the United States has managed till now to finance its current account deficits because the US dollar is the reserve currency of the world and continues to do so and the holders are willing to accept liabilities of resident sectors of the United States, especially the government’s at low interest rates/yields.

James Tobin, who has provided the best description of the meaning of government deficits and debt said this in an article “Agenda For International Coordination Of Macroeconomic Policies” (Google Books link)

Nonzero current accounts must be financed by equivalent capital movements, in part induced by appropriate structure of interest rates.

We will discuss this further in many posts and for now here’s a good illustration of how the balance of payments accounts are kept. This is from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ manual Balance of Payments and International Investment Position, Australia, Concepts, Sources and Methods, 1998

(click to enlarge)

So, one starts out with the international investment position and records the transactions in the current account and the financial account. The difference is that the former records income/expenditure flows while the latter records financing flows. The current account includes items such as imports, exports, dividends, interest payments paid to/received from non-residents etc., while the capital account records transactions such as residents’ purchases of assets abroad, increase in liabilities to non-residents and so on. Since debits and credits equal, the balances in the two accounts cancel out. To calculate the international investment position, we add the financial account flows and calculate revaluations to reach the end of period international investment position.

The international investment position records assets and liabilities vis-à-vis the rest of the world. If the difference – the NIIP – is negative, it means the nation is a debtor nation. In the construction above, all transactions between residents and non-residents are recorded – whether in domestic or foreign currency. The numbers are then converted to the domestic currency according to the best rules prescribed by national accountants.

We will look into these in more detail – including all causalities of course – in later posts in this series. Till then, the summary is: imports are purchased on credit.