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Discussion of Current Account Fact and Fiction by Backus and Lambert Nouriel Roubini Stern School of Business, New York University.

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Presentation on theme: "Discussion of Current Account Fact and Fiction by Backus and Lambert Nouriel Roubini Stern School of Business, New York University."— Presentation transcript:

1 Discussion of Current Account Fact and Fiction by Backus and Lambert Nouriel Roubini Stern School of Business, New York University

2 Is the US CA Deficit Unsustainable? Conventional wisdom: Yes Backus-Lambert wisdom: NO Shooting at “Straw Man” Hypotheses: –U.S. deficits are unprecedented –Deficits are usually associated with fiscal deficits –Large deficits cannot last –Deficits are always followed by real depreciation –The US is living beyond its means Papers results mostly based on a number of simple correlations and charts. Interesting but not passing the test of formal economic analysis. The paper is a bit sketchy and unfinished.

3 Solvency Constraints IBC/No Ponzi Game Condition: Undiscounted sum of all CA balances must be equal to the initial stock of net foreign liabilities. Or discounted sum of trade balances must be equal to initial stock of net foreign liabilities US has a problem as in 2004 it had a 6% of GDP CA deficit and an equivalently large trade deficit

4 Unprecedented? Likely to last? Large deficits cannot last forever; adjustment can be sudden and painful based on many recent studies on emerging and advanced economies: Freund and Warnock (2005), Edwards (2005),Clarida et al. (2005), Milesi- Ferretti and Razin (2000), Kamin et al. (2004), etc. You can run large “surpluses” for much longer than “deficits” as in the latter case foreign financing may suddenly stop Persistent deficits are mostly prior to WWI and driven by investment booms

5 Unprecedented? Likely to last? Large surpluses in OECD countries may be driven by poor demographics; US may not be as bad as Europe or Japan but it should, on net, run CA surpluses not deficits given its long-run social security and health costs problems. Need for deeper analysis of this. US deficit is “unprecedented” in the sense that the while the US is the largest country in the world, it is also the largest net debtor and the largest net borrower ever. Superpowers tend to be net creditors and net lenders. All of the world, with few exceptions, is running a surplus while the US is running a persistent and growing deficit. Paradox of EMs lending to the US.

6 Practical Solvency Constraint Resource Gap: difference btw the current trade balance and the trade balance required to stabilize the external debt to GDP ratio: (r-g) D/Y = Required TB Depending on assumptions on r and g U.S. Resource Gap is 5% to 6% of GDP Debt dynamics is real ugly under most scenarios. How to stop this debt dynamics?

7 Sustainability of CA deficits depends on their nature/cause Intertemporal CA approach insights: –Deficits driven by productive investment are good and more sustainable for longer –Deficits driven by unsustainable fiscal deficits are bad and less sustainable over time –Deficits driven by unsustainable low private savings may lead to a hard landing (US consumption rate is steadily increasing) –So, whether a deficit is sustainable and for how long depends on its causes/nature.

8 US CA Deficits : Deficit driven by an investment boom (new economy) growing faster than increase in public savings : CA deficits worsens by 2% of GDP in spite of a fall on I/Y of 4% of GDP. Why? Public savings went from 2.4% surplus to a 3.6% deficit, a 6% of GDP turnaround.

9 Twin Deficits? Of 6% fiscal change 4.6% due to fall in revenues; 1.4% due to increase in spending (mostly defense/homeland security)/ Tax revenues in 2004 the lowest in 50 years (since 1951) Structural fiscal deficit rather than cyclical Of course, most of CA and fiscal balance negative correlation (“twin divergence”) is driven by output shocks (business cycle). But controlling for that, exogenous fiscal shocks can lead to “twin deficits”

10 Are US consumers Ricardian? No Ricardian effects are consistent with twin deficits: tax-smoothing plus intertemporal CA model : not much change in private savings in spite of 6% fiscal turnaround : 5% fiscal turnaround with only modest fall in private savings Studies suggesting Ricardian effects do not include data on recent twin deficit episode or are based on dubious calibrated simulations.

11 Explanations of US CA Deficit in Fiscal: Twin Deficits Global Savings Glut Global Investment Drought Bond Conundrum in has kept savings low and investment higher, thus worsening the CA, but it depends on a number of factors: –FX intervention by central banks –Investment drought and some savings glut –Easy monetary policies –Technical/Structural factors

12 Financing of CA Deficit matters 1990s: Deficit financed by long-term equity/FDI from private sector investors 2000s: Deficit financed by short term debt flows from official investors (central banks) Myth: US CA deficit due to foreign investors wanting to invest into US high yielding assets and capital.

13 Financing of CA Until 2000: Net FDI/Equity Portfolio financing was a $200b surplus In : Net FDI/Equity Portfolio financing was a $200b deficit So, in 2004 on top of a $665 b deficit, US had to borrow in the form of debt $865 b because of negative FDI/equity flows 70-75% of deficit financed by foreign central banks ($500 plus in 2004)

14 Twin Deficit Financing 100% of US fiscal deficit is financed by non-residents 53% of all Treasuries held by non residents Average (marginal) maturity down to 55 (33) months Treausury financing needs in 2006: over $ 1,000 billion

15 US CA Adjustment: Orderly or Disorderly? With a CA deficit going to 7% of GDP, how can you reduce it down to sustainable 2%, i.e. a 5% CA and trade balance adjustment? If adjustment via fall in investment, recessionary effects If adjustment via sharp fall in private consumption rate and increase in private savings rate, also a risk of a recession Better to adjust via an increase in public savings (control spending, reverse some tax cuts) Given imbalance, slower growth may be inevitable by now.

16 CA deficit worsened in spite of US dollar fall in Why? Not just J-curve Not just oil shock You need expenditure reduction in addition to expenditure switching If expenditure reduction does not come from fiscal, it will have to come from a fall in private consumption and investment driven by a sharp increase in interest rates.

17 CA deficits and depreciations Overvalued currencies may cause large and growing current account deficits. So, in short run, CA deficits are not associated with depreciation, rather the reverse. But, at some point, overvalued currencies associated with unsustainable currrent account deficits will lead to large real depreciation. Typical examples: emerging market crisis. Similar association in advanced economies and the US. See other studies on current account reversals (Freund and Warnock (2005), Edwards (2005),Clarida et al. (2005), Milesi-Ferretti and Razin (2000), Kamin et al. (2004), etc.)

18 Recent literature suggest that CA reversals can be disorderly They are often disorderly in emerging markets In advanced economies consumption and fiscal- driven, as opposed to investment-driven, CA deficits are associated with reversals that lead to slower growth and larger real depreciations From a global perspective it is different to have a 7% deficit in a small open economy or in a very large sized open economy such as the U.S. Global implications of disorderly adjustment would be severe.

19 Living beyond our means? Yes, based on increase in net foreign liabilities. Solvency constraint must hold by definition. Consumption needs to fall as share of GDP Looking at household net worth rather than country’s net worth (debt) is misleading in terms of sustainability of external deficit After bursting of equity bubble, household net worth to C ratio was back to historical average while net foreign debt has been rising Recent increase in net worth to consumption is all driven by a housing wealth increase. Another bubble?

20 Deficit Grew as Investment Fell

21 Rapid rise in Debt Inflows

22 Current account deficit rises even if trade deficit stabilizes

23 Need sustained fall in trade deficit to stabilize external debt to GDP ratio Sustained adjustment eliminates the trade deficit by Debt/GDP ratio stabilizes at 55% Current account deficit is still 5% of GDP in 2008, even though trade deficit is 3.7%.

24 Bottom line: the current trajectory is unsustainable

25 The implications of the current system

26 Hard landing scenario in the absence of US fiscal adjustment Sharp fall of the dollar as foreign financing starts to shrink Sharp increase in US long-term interest rates as foreign financing of twin deficits shrinks. Fed forced to increase short rates to stem US dollar free fall and ensuing inflation Unraveling of carry trades and leveraged bets Risk of a systemic crisis if an HLI collapses. Sharp fall of other risky assets (equities, housing, EM debt, high yield, etc.). Sharp US and global economic slowdown or outright recession


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