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How long can the unsustainable U.S. current account deficit be sustained?

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  • Carol C. Bertaut
  • Steven B. Kamin
  • Charles P. Thomas
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    Abstract

    This paper addresses three questions about the prospects for the U.S. current account deficit. Is it sustainable in the long term? If not, how long will it take for measures of external debt and debt service to reach levels that could prompt some pullback by global investors? And if and when such levels are breached, how readily would asset prices respond and the current account start to narrow? ; To address these questions, we start with projections of a detailed partial-equilibrium model of the U.S. balance of payments. Based on plausible assumptions of the key drivers of the U.S. external balance, they indicate that the current account deficit will resume widening and the negative NIIP/GDP ratio will continue to expand. However, our projections suggest that even by the year 2020, the negative NIIP/GDP ratio will be no higher than it is in several industrial economies today, and U.S. net investment income payments will remain very low. The share of U.S. claims in foreigners' portfolios will likely rise, but not to an obviously worrisome extent. All told, it seems likely it would take many years for the U.S. debt to cumulate to a level that would test global investors' willingness to extend financing. ; Finally, we explore the historical responsiveness of asset prices and the current account in industrial economies to measures of external imbalances and debt. We find little evidence that, as countries' net indebtedness rises, the developments needed to correct the current account--including changes in growth rates, asset prices, or exchange rates--materialize all that rapidly. ; We would emphasize that these findings do not imply that U.S. current account adjustment is necessarily many years away, as any number of factors could trigger such adjustment. Our point is rather that international balance sheet considerations likely are not sufficient, by themselves, to require external adjustment any time soon.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.) in its series International Finance Discussion Papers with number 935.

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    Date of creation: 2008
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    Handle: RePEc:fip:fedgif:935

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    Keywords: Balance of payments ; Balance of trade;

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    1. Kristin J. Forbes, 2008. "Why do foreigners invest in the United States?," Working Paper Series 2008-27, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
    2. Philip R. Lane & Gian Maria Milesi-Ferretti, 2001. "External Wealth, the Trade Balance, and the Real Exchange Rate," CEG Working Papers 200113, Trinity College Dublin, Department of Economics.
    3. Joseph W. Gruber & Steven B. Kamin, 2008. "Do differences in financial development explain the global pattern of current account imbalances?," International Finance Discussion Papers 923, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
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    10. John Kitchen, 2007. "Sharecroppers or Shrewd Capitalists? Projections of the US Current Account, International Income Flows, and Net International Debt," Review of International Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 15(5), pages 1036-1061, November.
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    12. Catherine L. Mann, 1999. "Is the U.S. Trade Deficit Sustainable?," Peterson Institute Press: All Books, Peterson Institute for International Economics, number 47.
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    14. Freund, Caroline, 2005. "Current account adjustment in industrial countries," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 24(8), pages 1278-1298, December.
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    16. Carol C. Bertaut & William L. Griever, 2004. "Recent developments in cross-border investment in securities," Federal Reserve Bulletin, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), issue Win, pages 19-31.
    17. Philip Lane & Gian Maria Milesi-Ferretti, 2001. "Long-Term Capital Movements," CEG Working Papers 20018, Trinity College Dublin, Department of Economics.
      • Philip R. Lane & Gian Maria Milesi-Ferretti, 2002. "Long-Term Capital Movements," NBER Chapters, in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 2001, Volume 16, pages 73-136 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    18. Christopher J. Erceg & Luca Guerrieri & Christopher Gust, 2006. "SIGMA: a new open economy model for policy analysis," International Finance Discussion Papers 835, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
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    Cited by:
    1. Gian-Maria Milesi-Ferretti, 2008. "Fundamentals At Odds? T+L4130he U.S. Current Account Deficit and the Dollar," IMF Working Papers 08/260, International Monetary Fund.
    2. Milesi-Ferretti, Gian Maria, 2008. "Fundamentals at Odds? The US Current Account Deficit and The Dollar," CEPR Discussion Papers 7046, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    3. Stephanie E. Curcuru & Charles P. Thomas & Francis E. Warnock, 2008. "Current Account Sustainability and Relative Reliability," NBER Working Papers 14295, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Stephanie E. Curcuru & Charles P. Thomas & Francis E. Warnock, 2008. "Current account sustainability and relative reliability," International Finance Discussion Papers 947, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).

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