income account

Current account

In economics, the current account is one of the two primary components of the balance of payments, the other being the capital account. It is the sum of the balance of trade (exports minus imports of goods and services), net factor income (such as interest and dividends) and net transfer payments (such as foreign aid).

begin{align} mbox{Current account} & = mbox{Balance of trade} & + mbox{Net factor income from abroad} & + mbox{Net unilateral transfers from abroad} end{align}

The current account balance is one of two major metrics of the nature of a country's foreign trade (the other being the net capital outflow). A current account surplus increases a country's net foreign assets by the corresponding amount, and a current account deficit does the reverse. Both government and private payments are included in the calculation. It is called the current account because goods and services are generally consumed in the current period.


The balance of trade is typically the most important part of the current account. This means that changes in the patterns of trade are key drivers in the current accounts of most of the world's economies. However, for the few countries with substantial overseas assets or liabilities, net factor payments may be significant.

Positive net sales to abroad generally contributes to a current account surplus; negative net sales to abroad generally contributes to a current account deficit. Because exports generate positive net sales, and because the trade balance is typically the largest component of the current account, a current account surplus is usually associated with positive net exports.

The net factor income or income account, a sub-account of the current account, is usually presented under the headings income payments as outflows, and income receipts as inflows. Income refers not only to the money received from investments made abroad (note: investments are recorded in the capital account but income from investments is recorded in the current account) but also to the money sent by individuals working abroad, known as remittances, to their families back home. If the income account is negative, the country is paying more than it is taking in interest, dividends, etc. For example, the United States' net income has been declining exponentially since it has allowed the dollar's price relative to other currencies to be determined by the market to a point where income payments and receipts are roughly equal. The difference between Canada's income payments and receipts have been declining exponentially as well since its central bank in 1998 began its strict policy not to intervene in the Canadian Dollar's foreign exchange. The various subcategories in the income account are linked to specific respective subcategories in the capital account, as income is often composed of factor payments from the ownership of capital (assets) or the negative capital (debts) abroad. From the capital account, economists and central banks determine implied rates of return on the different types of capital. The United States, for example, gleans a substantially larger rate of return from foreign capital than foreigners do from owning United States capital.

Theoretical analysis

When analyzing the current account theoretically, it is often written as a function X of the real exchange rate, p, domestic GDP, Y, and foreign GDP, Y*. Thus the current account can be written as X(p, Y, Y*). According to theory, the current account X should increase if (1) the domestic currency depreciates (p increases), (2) domestic GDP decreases, or (3) foreign GDP increases. A domestic currency depreciation makes domestic goods relatively cheaper, boosting exports relative to imports. A decrease in domestic GDP reduces domestic demand for foreign goods, lowering imports without affecting exports. An increase in foreign GDP increases foreign demand for domestic goods, increasing exports without affecting imports.

Reducing current account deficits

Action to reduce a substantial current account deficit usually involves increasing exports or decreasing imports. This is generally accomplished directly through import restrictions, quotas, or duties (though these may indirectly limit exports as well), or subsidizing exports. Influencing the exchange rate to make exports cheaper for foreign buyers will indirectly increase the balance of payments. This can be accomplished by increasing domestic inflation (e.g. by cutting interest rates), loosening monetary policy (making more money available), or adjusting government spending to favor domestic suppliers.

Less obvious but more effective methods to reduce a current account deficit include measures that increase domestic savings (or reduced domestic borrowing), including a reduction in borrowing by the national government.

The "Pitchford Thesis"

It should be noted that a current account deficit is not always a problem. The "Pitchford Thesis" states that a current account deficit does not matter if it is driven by the private sector. Some feel that this theory has held true for the Australian economy, which has had a persistent current account deficit, yet has experienced economic growth for the past 17 years (1991-2008). Others argue that Australia is accumulating a substantial foreign debt that could become problematic, especially if interest rates increase. A deficit in the current account also implies that the country is a net capital importer.

Interrelationships in the balance of payments

Absent changes in official reserves, the current account is the mirror image of the sum of the capital and financial accounts. One might then ask: Is the current account driven by the capital and financial accounts or is it vice versa? The traditional response is that the current account is the main causal factor, with capital and financial accounts simply reflecting financing of a deficit or investment of funds arising as a result of a surplus. However, more recently some observers have suggested that the opposite causal relationship may be important in some cases. In particular, it has controversially been suggested that the United States current account deficit is driven by the desire of international investors to acquire U.S. assets (See Ben Bernanke, William Poole links below). However, the main viewpoint undoubtedly remains that the causative factor is the current account and that the positive financial account reflects the need to finance the country's current account deficit.

See also


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