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Three years ago if someone used the terra "balance of paymentsff, you
would know that he was either an economist specializing in international trade,
a banker doing international business, or a central banker such as I am.


the response to use of the term from anyone but one of these would usually be a
blank stare and a question, HWha t fs that anyway?” and a conspicuous lack of
Today it is very different.

Last Sunday’ Minneapolis Tribune had a

front page story on the U. S. payments balance figures for the last quarter of

There are lots of speeches and articles on it.

The President of the

United States refers to the balance of payments quite frequently, and his pre­
decessor called a special news conference on the subject in the late fall of

But even with ail this, a lot of people - too many, in fact - neither

know much about the balance of payments nor understand that it is very important.
I think it is one of the most important economic problems of the day and that it
should be of vital interest to all Americans, for every American is affected by
the balance of payments and is in position to affect it.
L e t fs clear away a few technicalities first.

The balance of payments

problem really is not hard to understand; it’ just hard to solve.
Every nation, like an individual, has income and outgo.

When it, or

its citizens deal with other nations or their citizens, there are payments that
flow out and payments that flow in.

In any given period, such as a month, a

quarter, or a year, the out-payments and the in-payments can be netted to strike
a balance.

In balance of payments terms, if the balance is negative or a deficit,

it is "unfavorable". If it is positive or a surplus, it is "favorable11. No
nation expects to be in perfect or zero balance at any one time nor all of the
time; neither does it expect, nor can it, run a favorable or unfavorable balance


all of the time.

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(Balance of Payments)

There are a lot of accounts in the balance of payments but I want to
group them under four or five headings.

The first of these is the trade or

merchandise account, the net export or import balance.

When we sell goods

abroad we receive payments; when we buy abroad we make payments.

A favorable

trade balance tends to indicate two things - ability to produce more goods than
are needed at home and ability to sell them abroad.

Obviously competitive costs

affect ability to sell abroad or vulnerability to foreign sales either at home
or in third markets.
The United States has run a favorablf balance on trade account for a
long time.

It averaged $2.5 billion in the seven years from 1950 through 1956;

it was at a high of $6 billion in 1957 because of special circumstances, mainly
heavy petroleum sales during the Suez crisis; it was at a low of $1 billion in
1959 when we almost priced outselves out of certain markets and into an unfavor­
able balance; it was slightly under $5 billion in 1960 and slightly over $5 billion
in 1961.

In other words, we have done pretty well in competitive foreign trade,

but I will have more to say about this later.
Nations also receive and make payments for services and thus there is
a service account.

For example, payments are made or received via tourists, for

shipping and insurance, via returns on investment, via remittances ^ • ^ ’ received
from abroad.

Competitive costs affect this balance also but not as strongly as

the trade balance.

We do pretty well on service account also.

It averages

about $1.5 billion in our favor each year and was a bit larger than this in 1961.
Now when we put those two accounts together we get a fairly broad
measure of a nation's competitive position in world trade.

Given the above

figures, it can be seen that we earned net about $6 billion on these accounts
in 1960 and about $7 billion in 1961.

This, you might say, was our gross profit

A third account deals with our military expenditures overseas and our
Governmental foreign aid, both loans and grants.

Military spending abroad is

- 3 -

(Balance of Payments)

just the same as importing; we buy goods and services to support our installa­

Why don't we buy these things at home and send them over to the troops?

We do, of course, exactly this as far as most military supplies are concerned,
but we obviously have to make payments for places we occupy and it makes economic
sense to buy some goods on the site rather than pay freight on them.

We spend


about $3 billion net on overseas military operations.
We spend about that same amount on foreign aid but there is a big
difference between these expenditures and military expenditures.

Most of our

foreign aid dollars, about 80 per cent of them, are used to buy goods and services
in the U.S.

Thus one reason we have had such a favorable balance on trade account

is our foreign aid grants and loans - and I should stress that a lot of the foreign
aid is loan rather than grant.


For that reason, cutting our foreign aid vwfl' not

help our balance of payments problem significantly; it would lead merely to re­
duced exports from the U. S. and a smaller trade balance.
Taking the military and foreign aid figures together then, we have an
adverse balance on this account of about $6 billion.

In most years, however,

our positive trade and service account balance has been big enough to offset
this and still leave us mildly on the plus side.

Specifically, in 1960 it left

us with $400 million plus and in 1961 with $1.1 billion plus.

But in 1959 when

we had a bad year in export of goods and services we did not earn enough gross
profit from them to pay for more than half our military and aid expense.
The next account is long term capital investment.

Whenever American

business invests abroad, in a plant or a natural resource, or whenever anyone o|UGbuys a share of stock or a bond of a foreign company, it represents an out­
payment of long term funds.

We do this, of course, to acquire assets and to

get a return, and the return - if it is brought back to the U.S. - shows up in
the service account, as I noted earlier.

But this long term investment does

take funds out of this country and it does affect our current payments balance.
In the past decade it has run (net, since there is some investment made in this

- 4 -

(Balance of payments)

country by foreigners) between $1 and $2.5 billion per year.

In 1960 it was

$1.7 billion, net, in 1961 about $2.3 billion net.
Now I want to group all of these four accounts into one subtotal be­
cause that subtotal measures what we call our "basic balance". And here is
where we get a shock, for in the past five years our "basic balance" ha3 been
in balance only in 1957.

Our "basic balance" deficit was $3.5 billion in 1958,

$4.4 billion in 1959 (our worst year) $1.9 billion in 1960 and about $1 billion
in 1961.
I have just one more account to describe and then we can get to the
heart of the balance of payments problem.

The last account covers short-term

capital movements which reflect mainly financial transactions, loans (nongovernment),
short-term investments, transfers of balances, deposit build-ups, and the like.
Generally speaking we have run a favorable balance on this account by $100 - $500
million per year.

In 1960, however, the balance was unfavorable by almost

$2 billion and in 1961 by

$1.5 billion.

There are really three reasons for the abrupt change.

First and basic

is the fact that Western Europe has made great economic advances, that sound
fiscal and monetary policies have been followed there, and consequently that a
number of European currencies now are strong.

Second, is the rate of return

available on short-term investment; generally speaking it was higher abroad than
in the U. S. in 1960 and 1961.

Third, was a strong feeling abroad that the U.S.

was not or might not be following sound fiscal and monetary policies, that these
might lead to more inflation and that as a consequence the dollar was in danger
of devaluation.

The heavy movement of short-term capital flows away from the

U. S. came in late 1960 and early 1961 and represented in very large measure a


confidence crisis and a run « # the dollar.

And while the state of confidence

has improved a great deal, it is still in a delicate state and needs careful

- 5 -

(Balance of Payments)

Now here we do come to one of the fairly complicated parts of the
balance of payments problem, one which is vital to understand.

It is essen­

tially a banking problem and is affected in large measure by confidence.


me try to explain it to you.
Gold still forms the basic reserve of most currency systems.

There is

a very simple reason for this; people have confidence in gold and its value stays

One ounce of gold is worth $35; our Treasury stands ready to buy gold

at that rate and it will convert dollars into gold at that rate for other govern­
ments through their central banks.

Our government, however, will not convert

dollars into gold for private citizens either here or abroad.
When we run an unfavorable balance of payments there are only two ways
we can make settlement, either we pay in dollar credits or in gold.

When we pay

in dollars, in effect we put a kind of mortgage on our gold for these dollar
claims if held by central banks can be converted into gold easily, or if held
by private holders they can be transferred to central banks and then converted
into gold.
During much of the postwar period our settlement took the form mostly
of dollar credits but some gold flowed out.

On the average, in the seven years

from 1950 through 1956 when our payments balance was in deficit by $1.5 billion,
settlement was about $1.2 billion in dollar credits and $300 million in gold.
Foreigners took some gold because they needed or wanted to build up their basic
gold reserves somewhat, and we were glad to have them do so for it built confi­
dence in their currencies.

We had a lot of gold and this seven year drain of

$2 billion represented less than 10 per cent of our holdings; we held well over
half of all the gold in the world outside Russia.
In a very real sense then, foreigners treated the dollar as being
"as good as gold".

In fact, it was even better than gold for gold earns no

return and the dollar balances could be invested to earn income.
thus became what we call a reserve currency.

The dollar

Since it was usable anywhere or

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(Balance of Payments)

could be converted into gold by central banks it was "as good as gold" for
reserve purposes.

The presence here of a large scale money market with major

loan and investment facilities; the existence of faith in the constant value
of the dollar made foreigners not only willing but wanting to keep their reserves
in dollars.

And aside from holding gold, there was no other large scale currency

in which they had confidence.

The United States found it both profitable and

desirable to be the international banker who provided reserves.
But this whole system is based on confidence.

If foreigners believed

that the value of the dollar in terms of gold might be changed, they would not
hold dollars.

Obviously if the price of gold is going to $40, any holder of

gold who can will convert dollars into gold at the $35 rate before devaluation
simply because he can get more gold for his dollars at that rate.
Furthermore, as other currencies became strong it no longer became
necessary to hold earning reserves solely in dollars.

The pound, the mark, the

lira, and finally the franc became almost "as good as gold" or "as good as dollars"
Thus if confidence in the dollar waned, there were other currencies to run to.
And in many cases investments denominated in those other currencies were more
profitable than those denominated in dollars.
Now this is exactly like a banking operation.
some demand for liquidity, some time for return.

You hold bank deposits,

If you can get better returns

on time money elsewhere the tendency is to put it there.

And if you lose confi­

dence in your bank you withdraw your funds regardless of the rate of return.
In so far as the U. S. is concerned, it can, of course, stop permitting dollars
to be converted into gold.

But if it did that, it would stop being a world

banker and the dollar would cease being a reserve currency.

That obviously is

not a very good answer to the problem.
Beginning with 1958 we began to lose gold at an alarming rate.
four years 1958 through 1961 we lost $6 billion.

In the

We could afford the loss since

- 7 -

(Balance of Payments)

we still have a lot of gold - $17 billion to be precise.

But what seemed to be

happening was some loss of confidence in the dollar and this was serious.


confidence crisis, as I noted earlier, came in the second half of 1960 and first
quarter of 1961.

The short term capital outflow from the U. S. ran at better

than a $3 billion rate in the last half of 1960 and at better than a $2 billion
rate in the first quarter of 1961, in contrast to a normal net inflow to the U.S.
of $100 - $500 million, as noted earlier.
Now here we have the banking part of the balance of payments problem.
It can be handled by banking means and the means are within our power.


mentally we need to maintain confidence in the dollar and we need to keep our
short-term rates competitive.

There are other technical steps that can be taken

to help with this part of the problem such as working out cooperative arrangements
with other central banks, making some procedural changes in the International
Monetary Fund, and even engaging in foreign currency operations for ourselves.
All of these are being done or are in prospect.

The real point is that we can

do these things, and we can relieve this part of the problem.

Short-term capital

outflows in the latter part of 1961 were far smaller than in the earlier part.
While restoration of confidence was a delicate operation and while our rates are
still not completely competitive, we have come a long way.
Finally, I want to return to the other side of the problem - the
"basic balance" or the economic part.

The distressing thing here is that our

problem is worsening rather than improving.

Our basic deficit in 1961 was

smaller than in 1960 because we had a first half surplus.

In the second part

of last year, however, the basic deficit was very high, worse than at any time
in 1960 and almost as high as in 1958 and 1959.
much harder to solve than the banking problem.
but they are very hard to carry out.

This basic deficit problem is
The steps necessary can be seen

First we have to stay competitive in

foreign trade and even improve our competitive position.

This means we must


(Balance of Payments)

foster more investment here, improve and enlarge our plant, and make it more

It means that we cannot afford wage or price inflation, which

incidentally not only affects our competitive position but bears on the confidence
factor also.

Fundamentally we have to widen the favorable balance between

exports and imports of goods and services.

This will be hard to achieve; the

gap Is narrowing rather than widening as our economy goes up and Western Europe's
is rising more slowly than it had been.
There is one thing we cannot do successfully to improve our position
and that is to raise our trade barriers.

On the contrary, we probably will have

to give some trade concessions to get some for ourselves.

We are much more

vulnerable than is Western Europe to a trade barrier conflict.
I said earlier that reduction of our foreign aid program would not
help our balance of payments problem because it would be reflected in lessened

We can, however, try to "tie" even more of our foreign aid dollars to

American purchases and this would help our balance of payments.

In similar

fashion, while we cannot logically cut down our expenditures abroad for our
military installations there, we can try to get countries where these are
located to make offsetting purchases here.
with the Germans.

We have worked out one such deal

This will help our basic balance.

Finally, as to long term capital investment abroad, we want to be
sure that it produces income which comes back home and we want to foster more
investment at home so that it is less attractive to go overseas.
The balance of payments problem is a tough one.
progress toward its solution but not much.

We have made some

It will be with us for some time

and probably for the foreseeable future our affairs will be subjected somewhat
to the effects of the problem and efforts to correct it.