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Borrowing without debt? Understanding the U.S. international investment position


  • Matthew Higgins
  • Thomas Klitgaard
  • Cédric Tille


Sustained large U.S. current account deficits have led some economists and policymakers to worry that future current account adjustment could occur through a sudden and disruptive depreciation of the dollar and a sharp drop in U.S. consumption. Two factors that, to date, have cast doubt on such concerns are the stability of U.S. net external liabilities and the minimal net income payments made by the United States on these liabilities. We show that the stability of the external position reflects sizable capital gains stemming from strong foreign equity markets and a weaker dollar - conditions that could be reversed in the future. We also show that while minimal U.S. net income payments reflect a much higher measured rate of return on U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI) assets than on U.S. FDI liabilities, ongoing borrowing is likely to overwhelm this favorable rate of return, pushing the U.S. net income balance more deeply into deficit. ; In addition, we review the argument that the United States holds large amounts of intangible assets not captured in the data - assets that would bring the true U.S. net investment position close to balance. We argue that intangible capital, while a relevant dimension of economic analysis, is unlikely to be substantial enough to alter the U.S. net liability position.

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  • Matthew Higgins & Thomas Klitgaard & Cédric Tille, 2006. "Borrowing without debt? Understanding the U.S. international investment position," Staff Reports 271, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fednsr:271

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Hamid Faruqee & Douglas Laxton & Dirk Muir & Paolo A. Pesenti, 2007. "Smooth Landing or Crash? Model-Based Scenarios of Global Current Account Rebalancing," NBER Chapters,in: G7 Current Account Imbalances: Sustainability and Adjustment, pages 377-456 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Francis E. Warnock, 2006. "How Might a Disorderly Resolution of Global Imbalances Affect Global Wealth?," IMF Working Papers 06/170, International Monetary Fund.
    3. Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas & Hélène Rey, 2007. "International Financial Adjustment," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 115(4), pages 665-703, August.
    4. Philip R. Lane & Gian Maria Milesi-Ferretti, 2007. "A Global Perspective on External Positions," NBER Chapters,in: G7 Current Account Imbalances: Sustainability and Adjustment, pages 67-102 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Michele Cavallo & Cédric Tille, 2006. "Current account adjustment with high financial integration: a scenario analysis," Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, pages 31-45.
    6. Tille, Cédric, 2008. "Financial integration and the wealth effect of exchange rate fluctuations," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 75(2), pages 283-294, July.
    7. Ricardo Hausmann & Federico Sturzenegger, 2006. "Global Imbalances or Bad Accounting? The Missing Dark Matter in the Wealth of Nations," CID Working Papers 124, Center for International Development at Harvard University.
    8. Matthew Higgins & Thomas Klitgaard & Cedric Tille, 2005. "The income implications of rising U.S. international liabilities," Current Issues in Economics and Finance, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, vol. 11(Dec).
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    Cited by:

    1. Kuralbayeva, Karlygash & Vines, David, 2009. "The process by which the Dollar will fall: the effect of forward-looking consumers," CEPR Discussion Papers 7325, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    2. De Paoli, Bianca & Küçük-Tuğer, Hande & Søndergaard, Jens, 2010. "Monetary policy rules and foreign currency positions," Bank of England working papers 403, Bank of England.
    3. Juergen von Hagen & Haiping zhang, 2010. "International Capital Flows and Aggregate Output," Working Papers 10-2010, Singapore Management University, School of Economics.
    4. Jürgen von Hagen & Haiping Zhang, 2014. "International Capital Flows in the Model with Limited Commitment and Incomplete Markets," Open Economies Review, Springer, vol. 25(1), pages 195-224, February.
    5. Stephanie E. Curcuru & Tomas Dvorak & Francis E. Warnock, 2007. "The stability of large external imbalances: the role of returns differentials," International Finance Discussion Papers 894, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    6. Lane, Philip R. & Milesi-Ferretti, Gian Maria, 2009. "Where did all the borrowing go? A forensic analysis of the U.S. external position," Journal of the Japanese and International Economies, Elsevier, vol. 23(2), pages 177-199, June.
    7. Ziesemer, Thomas, 2009. "Growth with imported resources: On the sustainability of U.S. growth and foreign debt," MERIT Working Papers 028, United Nations University - Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT).
    8. Jurgen von Hagen & Haiping Zhang, 2011. "International Capital Flows with Limited Commitment and Incomplete Markets," Working Papers 17-2011, Singapore Management University, School of Economics.
    9. von Hagen, Jürgen & Zhang, Haiping, 2010. "Financial Development and the Patterns of International Capital Flows," CEPR Discussion Papers 7690, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    10. Pietro Alessandrini & Michele Fratianni, 2009. "Resurrecting Keynes to Stabilize the International Monetary System," Open Economies Review, Springer, vol. 20(3), pages 339-358, July.
    11. Jérémie Cohen-Setton & Jean Pisani-Ferry, 2008. "Asia-Europe: The Third Link," Working Papers 44, Bruegel.
    12. Devereux, Michael B. & Sutherland, Alan, 2010. "Valuation effects and the dynamics of net external assets," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 80(1), pages 129-143, January.
    13. Antoniades, Andreas, 2013. "Recasting the Power Politics of Debt: Structural Power, Hegemonic Stabilisers and Change," MPRA Paper 47015, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    14. Jaydeep Mukherjee & Debashis Chakraborty & Tanaya Sinha, 2013. "How has FDI influenced Current Account Balance In India? Time Series Results in presence of Endogenous Structural Breaks," Working Papers 1317, Indian Institute of Foreign Trade.

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    Balance of payments ; Investments; Foreign ; Consumption (Economics) ; Liabilities (Accounting) ; Dollar; American;

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