Working Papers

2006-03 | January 2006


Could Capital Gains Smooth a Current Account Rebalancing?


A narrowing of the U.S. current account deficit through exchange rate movements is likely to entail a substantial depreciation of the dollar, as stressed in the widely cited contribution by Obstfeld and Rogoff (2005). We assess how the adjustment is affected by the high degree of international financial integration in the world economy. A growing body of research stresses the increasing leverage in international financial positions, with industrialized economies holding substantial and growing financial claims on each other. Exchange rate movements then leads to valuations effects as the currency compositions of a country's assets and liabilities are not matched. In particular, a dollar depreciation generates valuation gains for the U.S. by boosting the dollar value of the large amount of its foreign-currency denominated assets. We consider an adjustment scenario in which the U.S. net external debt is held constant. The key finding is that while the current account moves into balance, the pace of adjustment is smooth. Intuitively, the valuation gains stemming from the depreciation of the dollar allow the U.S. to finance ongoing, albeit shrinking, current account deficits. We find that the smooth pattern of adjustment is robust to alternative scenarios, although the ultimate movements in exchange rates are affected.

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