U.S./International Business News

Rebalancing the global economy: some progress but challenges ahead

us trade

Following the global financial crisis, overall current account surpluses and deficits fell sharply from about 6 percent of global GDP in 2007 to about 3.5 percent in 2013. Since then, as shown in our new External Sector Report, global current account imbalances have declined only slightly to 3 percent of world GDP in 2018, while rotating toward advanced economies and away from emerging economies, including China whose current account is now broadly in line with fundamentals.

Trade actions and tensions have so far not significantly affected global current account imbalances, as trade has been diverted to other countries with lower or no tariffs. Instead, as highlighted in an earlier blog, these trade tensions and related uncertainties are weighing on global investment and growth, especially in sectors most integrated into global supply chains (where production is carried out across multiple countries).

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Despite the narrowing of global current account imbalances, stock imbalances (measured as the sum of countries’ net foreign assets and liabilities) have continued to increase, as creditor countries have run surpluses and debtor countries have run deficits for the most part. At 40 percent of GDP, stock imbalances have reached a historical peak and are four times larger than in the early 1990s.

Moreover, gross external debt liabilities of sovereigns and corporates have risen sharply in some economies in recent years, supported by benign global financing conditions. This entails financial stability risks not only for borrowers in deficit countries but also savers in surplus countries.

Trade actions and tensions have so far not significantly affected global current account imbalances.

Having a proper understanding of countries’ external positions—current accounts, stock positions, and currencies—is critical to highlight policymakers’ shared responsibility to tackle external imbalances before they become too risky.

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