Abstract:  This paper assesses prospects for sustained improvement in the U.S. external balance drawing on both model-based macro analysis and examination of disaggregated data. Most model projections of the future path of U.S. external balance show the recent improvement petering out by the end 1989 or so. Key structural factors leading to the expected future worsening of U. S. external balance are two asymmetries--the "income asymmetry" and the "pass-through asymmetry". That is, asymmetries in the pricing behavior of U.S. exporters and foreign suppliers and asymmetries in the elasticities of U.S. demand for imports and foreign demand for U.S. exports with respect to economic activity.
However, could projections based on historical relationships be misleading? Have these models ignored important changes in the international environment? Changes in trading partners and composition of trade, in income responsiveness, exchange rate movements and price competitiveness, the net debt position, trade protection, long-term supply response, and model uncertainty are considered.
Plausible (or sometimes implausible) changes in the historical relationships do not materially change the medium-term outlook for a future deterioration in U.S. external balance. However, model uncertainty suggests that confidence intervals around the point estimates of key parameters are sufficiently large that periods of improvement in U.S. external balance are within the realm of statistical probability; nevertheless, the outlook for sustained improvement remains problematical.
This suggests that outcomes for growth and the exchange rate different from those assumed in the projections, and which would probably stem from a different configuration of fiscal and monetary policies here and abroad, are likely necessary to put U.S. external balance on a sustainable path.
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Last update: November 10, 2008