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Current Account Deficits: The Australian Debate

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  • Rochelle Belkar

    (Reserve Bank of Australia)

  • Lynne Cockerell

    (Reserve Bank of Australia)

  • Christopher Kent

    (Reserve Bank of Australia)

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    Abstract

    This paper documents the clear change of view, which has taken place in Australia over the past three decades or so, concerning the relevance of the current account deficit for policy. Historical experience under a fixed exchange rate regime suggested that large persistent deficits were unsustainable and could leave the economy vulnerable to sudden reversals in sentiment. These concerns persisted after the floating of the Australian dollar and financial deregulation, and it was thought that all arms of policy should help to rein in the then much larger current account deficits. However, these policies were shown to be ineffective and, by the early 1990s, the argument that current account deficits represent the optimal outcomes of decisions made by ‘consenting adults’ gained wide support. This paper presents some empirical evidence consistent with optimal smoothing in the face of temporary shocks; the persistence of the deficit is attributed to a modest degree of impatience relative to the rest of the world. Although it is now widely accepted that policy should not seek to influence the current account balance, the issue of external vulnerability remains of interest. Here, country-specific considerations are important, and it is argued that the factors that have made Australia relatively resilient to external shocks are also those that helped to attract foreign capital in the first place.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by Reserve Bank of Australia in its series RBA Research Discussion Papers with number rdp2007-02.

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    Date of creation: Mar 2007
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    Handle: RePEc:rba:rbardp:rdp2007-02

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    Keywords: current account; external vulnerability; exchange rate regimes;

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    References

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    1. Christopher Kent & Kylie Smith & James Holloway, 2005. "Declining Output Volatility: What Role for Structural Change?," RBA Research Discussion Papers rdp2005-08, Reserve Bank of Australia.
    2. Graciela L. Kaminsky & Carmen M. Reinhart, 1996. "The twin crises: the causes of banking and balance-of-payments problems," International Finance Discussion Papers 544, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    3. Glenn Otto, 2003. "Can an Intertemporal Model Explain Australia's Current Account Deficit?," Australian Economic Review, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, vol. 36(3), pages 350-359.
    4. Reuven Glick & Kenneth Rogoff, 1993. "Global versus country-specific productivity shocks and the current account," International Finance Discussion Papers 443, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    5. Jocelyn Horne, 2001. "The Current Account Debate in Australia: Changing Policy Perspectives," Research Papers 0111, Macquarie University, Department of Economics.
    6. Charles Engel, 2005. "The US Current Account Deficit: A Re-examination of the Role of Private Saving," RBA Research Discussion Papers rdp2005-09, Reserve Bank of Australia.
    7. Campbell, John Y & Shiller, Robert J, 1987. "Cointegration and Tests of Present Value Models," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 95(5), pages 1062-88, October.
    8. Chapman, B.J. & Gruen, F., 1990. "An Analysis Of The Australian Consensual Incomes Policy: The Prices And Incomes Accord," CEPR Discussion Papers 221, Centre for Economic Policy Research, Research School of Economics, Australian National University.
    9. C. John McDermott & Paul Cashin, 1996. "Are Australia's Current Account Deficits Excessive?," IMF Working Papers 96/85, International Monetary Fund.
    10. Campbell, John Y, 1987. "Does Saving Anticipate Declining Labor Income? An Alternative Test of the Permanent Income Hypothesis," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 55(6), pages 1249-73, November.
    11. Sebastian Edwards, 2004. "Thirty Years of Current Account Imbalances, Current Account Reversals and Sudden Stops," NBER Working Papers 10276, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Ricardo J Caballero & Kevin Cowan & Jonathan Kearns, 2004. "Fear of Sudden Stops: Lessons from Australia and Chile," RBA Research Discussion Papers rdp2004-03, Reserve Bank of Australia.
    13. Paul Bergin & Steven Sheffrin, . "Interest Rates, Exchange Rates And Present Value Models Of The Current Account," Department of Economics 97-22, California Davis - Department of Economics.
    14. Chapman BJ & Gruen F, 1990. "Analysis of the Australian consensual incomes policy: the prices and incomes accord," ILO Working Papers 275456, International Labour Organization.
    15. Maurice Obstfeld & Kenneth S. Rogoff, 1996. "Foundations of International Macroeconomics," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262150476, December.
    16. Christopher Kent & Kylie Smith & James Holloway, 2005. "Declining Output Volatility: What Role for Structural Change?," RBA Annual Conference Volume, in: Christopher Kent & David Norman (ed.), The Changing Nature of the Business Cycle Reserve Bank of Australia.
    17. Deaton, Angus, 1992. "Understanding Consumption," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198288244, September.
    18. Sebastian Edwards, 2004. "Thirty Years of Current Account Imbalances, Current Account Reversals, and Sudden Stops," IMF Staff Papers, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 51(s1), pages 1-49, June.
    19. Nikola Dvornak & Marion Kohler & Gordon Menzies, 2003. "Australia’s Medium-run Exchange Rate: A Macroeconomic Balance Approach," RBA Research Discussion Papers rdp2003-03, Reserve Bank of Australia.
    20. J. D. Pitchford, 1989. "Does Australia Really Have A Current Account Problem?," Economic Papers, The Economic Society of Australia, vol. 8(4), pages 25-32, December.
    21. Milbourne, Ross & Otto, Glenn, 1992. "Consumption Smoothing and the Current Account," Australian Economic Papers, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 31(59), pages 369-84, December.
    22. Chay Fisher & Christopher Kent, 1999. "Two Depressions, One Banking Collapse," RBA Research Discussion Papers rdp1999-06, Reserve Bank of Australia.
    23. J. D. Pitchford, 1989. "A Sceptical View of Australia's Current Account and Debt Problem," Australian Economic Review, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, vol. 22(2), pages 5-14.
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