Brookings Papers on Economic Activity

Global Current Account Imbalances and Exchange Rate Adjustments

Abstract

THIS IS THE third in a series of papers we have written over the past five years about the growing U.S. current account deficit and the potentially sharp exchange rate movements any future adjustment toward current account balance might imply.1 The problem has hardly gone away in those five years. Indeed, the U.S. current account deficit today is running at around 6 percent of GDP, an all-time record. Incredibly, the U.S. deficit now soaks up about 75 percent of the combined current account surpluses of Germany, Japan, China, and all the world’s other surplus countries.2 To balance its current account simply through higher exports, the United States would have to increase export revenue by a staggering 58 percent over 2004 levels. And, as we argue in this paper, the speed at which the U.S. current account ultimately returns toward balance, the triggers that drive that adjustment, and the way in which the burden of adjustment is allocated across Europe and Asia all have enormous implications for global exchange rates. Each scenario for returning to balance poses, in turn, its own risks to financial markets and to general economic stability.