Thank you, Mr. Chairman. You should have a packet of charts labeled “U.S. External Adjustment” in front of you. Our topic today is U.S. external adjustment. The “adjustment” that is our focus starts with the recognition that the United States is running a large and growing deficit vis-à-vis the rest of the world in the use of goods and services—a deficit that makes obvious our interdependency with foreign economic behavior. As a result, some analysts are concerned that a change in foreign behavior at some point may have unwelcome consequences for us. But in today’s interdependent global economy, such vulnerability is present even for those in external balance or surplus. In our presentation today, we will analyze the factors behind our growing external deficit and consider what circumstances might foster its reversal. Of particular concern will be the implications of various alternatives for U.S. asset prices, especially the foreign exchange value of the dollar.
One direct measure of our external deficit (shown in the top panel) is the balance of payments concept termed the “current account balance”—that is, the sum of the trade balance, net investment income, and net foreign transfers. For many years the U.S. current account balance has been driven for the most part by the trade balance. Both balances began a period of substantial decline in 1996 that was only briefly interrupted by the recession in 2001.
The price-adjusted exchange value of the dollar in terms of the currencies of a large number of our trading partners (the dotted blue line) is central to our story for two reasons. First, the dollar exchange rate is an important price variable in most, if not all, of the significant demand-and-supply relationships in our complex story. Second, the dollar exchange rate is part of the transmission mechanism of U.S. monetary policy and influences U.S. inflation determination. Note that the dollar began to appreciate from a low point in early 1995—in advance of the downturn in the trade balance—and generally continued to rise until early 2002. The nominal exchange value of the dollar in terms of the major foreign currencies (the green line in the middle left panel) has come even further off its 2002 peak than has the more inclusive broad real dollar, nearly returning to its 1995 level. This difference reflects the fact that, in terms of the currencies of our other important trading partners (the dashed red line), the dollar has risen somewhat in nominal terms since early 2002. The dollar exchange rates of the major currencies have tended to be more flexible and more market driven than some of the OITP currencies, such as the Chinese renminbi; and the dollar has appreciated against some of these other currencies, in particular the Mexican peso.
Persistent current account deficits cumulate to the net international investment position, shown to the right, which measures our growing stock of indebtedness to the rest of the world. This large and growing stock of claims on the United States must be held at all times, and one intuitive perspective on the sustainability of our external position is that this stock cannot increase relative to our GDP forever. Every import and export transaction in the current account has a financial counterpart. Except for measurement error, the current account balance equals the net of all the international financial transactions. There are, of course, huge volumes of cross-border transactions between assets—unrelated to trade finance and driven by complex incentives of risk and return—that have consequences for asset prices, including exchange rates. Recent data for elements of those financial flows, reported in the bottom left panel, show that private foreign inflows to purchase U.S. securities (line 3) are very large, particularly in relation to private U.S. outflows to purchase foreign securities (line 4) and net direct investment (line 5). Moreover, these flows increased sharply in the first quarter. Nevertheless, foreign official inflows (line 2), which had about doubled in 2003, rose significantly further earlier this year.
From a macroeconomic perspective and with the public and private sectors combined, the extent to which the United States invests more than it saves corresponds to resources borrowed from abroad—the blue shaded region labeled “net foreign lending” in the bottom right panel. This is the NIPA analogue to the current account balance. As the rise in U.S. net domestic investment in the 1990s outpaced that in net saving, our external deficit rose. As our saving subsequently declined sharply, the external deficit widened further.
Unless and until the trade balance begins to narrow, adjustment is not yet occurring. Indeed, as was argued in the background paper circulated to the Committee, stability in the ratio of our foreign indebtedness to nominal GDP requires that the trade deficit eventually return to near zero. U.S. trade data are presented at the top of your next exhibit. The yellow shaded area represents the trade deficit, which has reached a record level. To the right of the vertical line, which is positioned at the latest actual data point, we have shown a simple extrapolation of imports and exports—based on standard partial equilibrium trade equations—for the case in which real GDP here and abroad grows at potential and the real value of the dollar remains at its current level. With imports already substantially larger than exports and with foreign potential growth reasonably robust but slightly less than U.S. potential growth, the change in imports tends to exceed that in exports, and so in this case there is no adjustment through 2010. The green bars measure the change in the trade balance. For the trade balance to narrow significantly, exports would need to grow rapidly relative to import growth for an extended period.
The middle panel provides a summary of the composition and magnitude of cross- border financial flows for the same period, expressed as a percent of GDP. The trade balance above accounts for most of the change in the current account balance, shown in yellow. U.S. private financial outflows, in tan, also must be financed; and the sum of these two is the counterpart to foreign private financial inflows (in blue) plus net official flows (in red). The extrapolation through 2010 incorporates the trade outcome from the top panel and plausible staff projections of U.S. and foreign private financial flows. Of course, private flows could behave differently, depending on the incentives perceived by investors here and abroad. To the extent that the flows shown in blue do not fully finance the current account deficit plus U.S. private outflows, foreign official intervention may fill the remaining gap, as shown here. Otherwise, exchange rates, other prices, and incomes here and abroad would change, resulting in a current account position and private flows that would satisfy the balance of payments norms.
The bottom two panels provide some detail on recent stocks of dollar holdings by foreign officials (the left panel) and foreign private investors (the right panel) that correspond to the flows in the middle panel. Estimates based on data through April show that, of the total foreign official holdings of more than $1,600 billion (line 1), about two-thirds consist of Treasury securities (line 2). The end of 2001 was very near the time of the most recent peak in the value of the dollar. Changes from then through April are shown in the column to the right and reveal that the change in the total is nearly accounted for by the change in holdings of “selected” Asia (line 3)—economies whose monetary authorities have engaged in substantial foreign exchange intervention. The incentives behind dollar acquisition by foreign officials, for the most part, relate to their objectives for their respective exchange rates and the competitiveness of their exports.
Foreign private holdings are significantly in fixed-income securities—lines 1, 2, and 3 in the right panel. These investors are thus exposed to dollar exchange rate risk and to U.S. market interest rate risk. Foreign holdings of U.S. equity (line 4) are also large but entail somewhat different risks. Over the period since the dollar began its appreciation in 1995, foreign investors have more than doubled their holdings of each of these categories of assets. Nevertheless, because U.S. securities markets are very large and quite liquid, changes in preferences on the part of foreign investors among these categories of assets need not have major implications for their prices. However, as long as the U.S. current account remains in deficit, net foreign claims on U.S. assets must continue to rise in total. Any diminution in the appetite of investors for U.S. assets would first trigger valuation changes, primarily via the exchange rate, that would lower the foreign-currency denominated value of their total claims on the United States.
Such a change in investor appetite could well be the first step in the external adjustment process. Some characteristics of an “orderly” adjustment are listed in the top left panel of your next exhibit. Although there are a great many possible alternative paths for adjustment that could be termed “orderly,” in the sense that financial markets would continue to function within normal ranges, such an outcome seems more likely to occur if investors are attracted by improved returns abroad rather than discouraged by unfavorable changes in U.S. prospects. Various specifics along these paths would differ, but all would be characterized by continued, albeit declining, net financial inflows into the U.S. economy. In addition, because lasting correction of the U.S. external deficit cannot be achieved through cyclical slowing of U.S. GDP growth to below potential and the associated temporary restraint on imports, external adjustment such that exports increase more than imports almost certainly requires dollar depreciation.
The panel to the right expresses the data on foreign holdings of U.S. assets from the previous exhibit as shares relative to the total outstanding amount for each category. Foreign holdings of U.S. Treasury securities (line 1) amount to nearly 50 percent of the outstanding stock, with the official share about 30 percent and the private share (not shown) about 20 percent. Foreign holdings are more than 10 percent of agency securities. The percent held abroad is only slightly higher for equities, with 12 percent of U.S. equities owned by foreign investors, virtually all of whom are private. These numbers are large, and they have risen over time. But moderate financial inflows could continue over time even if these shares stabilize or edge down.
There appears to be ample scope for continued financial inflows, as reflected in the bottom left panel. For most of the foreign countries shown, in December 2002 domestic securities made up most of their total bond and equity holdings, in many cases more than 80 percent. Moreover, U.S. securities are generally just a moderate portion of their nondomestic holdings. Accordingly, it does not seem to be the case that foreign portfolios are already overly invested in U.S. assets.
If stronger demand for U.S. exports is to contribute to adjustment, from which countries might it come? The panel on the right reports that the economies with the largest average share of U.S. exports in 2003 were Canada and western Europe (lines 1 and 2) followed by Mexico (line 3). These regions accounted for a slightly smaller share of the increase in U.S. exports over the past two years, shown in the second column. Note the jump in the share for China and Hong Kong (line 7) when viewed from the perspective of the change in exports. This increase is somewhat offset by the drop in Japan’s share (line 5). Taken together, our Asian trading partners (lines 4, 5, 7, and 8) accounted for 30 percent of the gain in exports. Income growth in Asia is likely to remain quite vigorous, with domestic demand a major source of strength. To a lesser degree, this outcome is likely for Canada and Mexico. Strong domestic demand in those regions will be necessary if U.S. exports are to accelerate.
The panel at the top left of your next exhibit is constructed to illustrate the sense in which there is a tradeoff between relative growth here and abroad and the minimum pace of real dollar depreciation required for the trade deficit to narrow. The line separating the shaded and nonshaded regions was calculated using standard partial equilibrium trade equations, and its position depends importantly on the current starting conditions, in particular the initial size of imports and exports. Given those quantities today, for any foreign minus U.S. growth gap (the horizontal axis) the unshaded area indicates what the annual rate of dollar depreciation (the vertical axis) would have to be over the near term for the U.S. trade deficit to begin to adjust, following the usual lags. In 2003, we were well above the line, with a growth gap of minus 1½ percentage points and real dollar depreciation of 8½ percent. The panel shows that the stronger relative foreign growth is, the less dollar depreciation would be required. However, even for growth outcomes very favorable to foreign activity, some dollar depreciation would be needed to get adjustment started. The staff estimates that the gap for relative potential growth is currently about minus ½ percent, so we have plotted the corresponding point on the line, marked by the box, as indicative of how far to the right on the horizontal axis we might tend to be. At that growth gap, dollar depreciation of more than 8 percent per year would be needed to start the process of external adjustment.
Overall, the implications for the U.S. economy of extended, gradual external adjustment—listed to the right—include that demand on the part of U.S. residents and foreigners shifts in favor of U.S.-made goods and services, thus boosting exports and reducing imports. In order for the United States no longer to depend so much on foreign saving, the extent to which U.S. domestic demand exceeds U.S. production potential must decline. Contractionary fiscal policy could contribute to restraining domestic demand and increasing net saving. Monetary policy would need to maintain full utilization of U.S. resources and may need to offset the expansionary implications of increased demand for U.S. goods. Significant resource shifts across production sectors may be needed, which could entail adjustment costs for the economy.
We cannot rule out that adjustment will be disorderly. In that case the primary concerns are about conditions in asset markets, where there could be abrupt price changes, increased volatility, and impaired liquidity, triggered by changed sentiment on the part of foreign and domestic investors about the attractiveness of U.S. assets. Because of the role of the exchange rate in cross-border transactions, dollar depreciation is likely to be at the center of any disorderly event. Given that some depreciation is part of virtually any external adjustment, depreciation in the case of a disorderly outcome would likely have to be large in magnitude and abrupt in pace. With global asset markets now highly linked, any abnormal developments in U.S. markets would be likely to spill over to asset markets elsewhere.
Where are the effects of such asset-price swings likely to matter most? The bottom left panel contains data on balance sheet risk faced by U.S. corporations via their debt denominated in foreign currency. Foreign currency issuance is just 4 percent of the total outstanding, and a substantial portion of that foreign currency risk may well have been hedged in the derivatives market. So this channel is not likely to have significant consequences. Foreign holdings of claims on the United States are shown by region in the panel to the right. In European portfolios, especially those in the United Kingdom, and in Canadian portfolios, holdings of U.S. assets are quite large relative to their respective GDPs. Negative balance sheet effects through declines in the exchange rate or U.S. asset prices could be expected to significantly impair economic activity in those regions and to be not inconsequential for the other countries shown. Joe Gagnon will continue our presentation.