View original document

The full text on this page is automatically extracted from the file linked above and may contain errors and inconsistencies.

FcU^ra! Reserve Bank

of s t.

! on delivery
CST (1:30 P.M.
Wü^yiiflj'e i'"T

External Adjustment


in the United States:

The Challenge Ahead

Remarks by
Manuel H. Johnson
Vice Chairman,

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

Baird/Manegold Lecture
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
November 18, 1988

I feel honored to be asked to participate in your Baird/ManegoId
Lecture Series.

Looking over the list of past lecturers,

I note that you

have benefited from the remarks of two of my colleagues at the Federal
Reserve Board -- former Chairman Paul Volcker in 1980 and, more recently,
Governor Martha Seger in 1986.

A major theme in Chairman Volcker's

lecture was the importance of taming inflation, which at the time was
running at double-digit rates.

The major macroeconomic concern of the

day was achieving internal adjustment in the U.S. economy.

Six years

later, as Governor Seger pointed out in her remarks to you,

the U.S.

domestic economy was performing quite well judging by the conventional
macroeconomic indicators of inflation and GNP growth.

However, Governor

Seger identified a major area in which the United States faced a
significant problem -- the large external imbalances, exemplified by our
high foreign trade deficits.

I want to focus our attention on the challenge represented by

these external imbalances.
is not easy;

Bringing about the needed external adjustment

in many ways it is an even more difficult task than

achieving internal adjustment because external adjustment involves,
necessarily, other sovereign nations.

Moreover, external adjustments of

a fundamental nature have important consequences for the domestic
economy, and carry the risk of upsetting the impressive gains made to
date with regard to inflation and internal adjustment.
In recent years,

the United States has recorded large current

account deficits -- defined as the difference between what U.S.


of goods and services sell to other nations and what U.S. consumers and
producers buy from other nations plus our net earnings (or payments) on



our international investment position.


This deficit was about $150

billion in 1987 -- roughly 3-1/2 percent of nominal U.S. GNP.
terms this external deficit is unprecedented,

In dollar

and as a share of our

nation's output it is the highest recorded during this century.

At the

same time, many of our trading partners have registered large current
account surpluses.
Continuation of such large external imbalances among industrial
countries is not likely to be sustainable.

As a result,

a corrective

process is underway to reduce these imbalances to more manageable

This process has involved changes in relative prices,

including exchange rates, and relative incomes among major trading
The multilateral nature of the U.S. external imbalance deserves

Current account balances of all nations combined,


add up to zero.


One country cannot have a current account

deficit without at least one other country having a current account

Other major industrial countries have large external surpluses,

large by historical standards and relative to their output.
Japan had an external surplus of nearly $90 billion,
its GNP.

In 1987,

or 3-1/2 percent of

Likewise, Germany recorded an external surplus of roughly $45
or 4 percent of its GNP.

And a number of smaller,


Newly Industrialized Economies -- among them Taiwan and South Korea -also have substantial external surpluses.
These external imbalances are the result of a process that began
much earlier in this decade.
the large U.S.

A simple explanation for the emergence of

current account deficit in the early 1980s is that it was

the consequence of the appreciation of the U.S. dollar vis-a-vis other
major currencies from 1980-1985.

The more vigorous economic recovery in




the United States, relative to that abroad, boosted U.S. demand for
imports and reinforced the impact of the stronger dollar on the U.S.
trade balance.
The U.S.

dollar appreciated sharply from mid-1980 to its peak in

early 1985 against the currencies of the major foreign industrial

The rising dollar during this period led to a decline in

exports from the United States as U.S. producers were priced out of
foreign markets.

At the same time, the appreciation of the dollar made

foreign goods very attractive to U.S. consumers and producers,


leading to an increase in U.S. demand for imports.
A contributing factor to this strong appreciation, particularly in
the latter phase, was high U.S. real interest rates relative to foreign
rates, and the perception of profitable investment opportunities, x^hich
sharply increased the demand for dollars relative to other currencies.
The relatively high real interest rates of the early 1980s reflected
a combination of historically high budget deficits,

dramatic changes in

personal and business marginal tax rates, and tax incentives for
increased investment in the United States.

Together these policies

increased the supply of capital to the United States.

At the same time,

disinflationary monetary policies were being pursued worldwide in an
attempt to reduce inflation and the inflationary psychology bred during
the mid- and late-1970s.

Growing investment opportunities in the United

States were a contrast to the relative dearth of profit opportunities
elsewhere in the world.

In addition, the dollar was attractive as a

"safe haven" because of the perception of political instability in some
other parts of the world.
A country's external balance and.--internal, balance are linked.
external balance in any country can be directly linked to savings and





investment decisions (or expenditure and production decisions) made by
its residents,

including budgetary policies pursued by its government.

The difference between domestic investment and domestic sources of

including government savings or dissavings, must be met by

foreign sources of savings.

If a country wishes to invest more than it

saves (or spend more than it produces), this excess must be financed by a
net inflow of foreign capital.

Everything else equal,

the higher is the

government budget deficit - - o r government dissaving -- the greater will
be the need to borrow from abroad.

The borrowing is manifested in

various financial transactions and may be associated with interest rate
and exchange rate movem e n ts.
Any country with a current account deficit must borrow from external
sources in order to finance that deficit.
household spends more than it earns;
the deficit.

It is the same as when a

the household must borrow to make up

Countries that are lending are generating domestic savings

in excess of domestic investment and a surplus of exports over imports.
Japan and Germany are currently large net lenders to the rest of the

and the United States, given its large current account deficit,


a large borrower.
The process of reducing the external imbalance in the United States
is already underway in both nominal and real terms.

Net exports of goods

and services in real terms (that is, adjusted for price changes) began to
improve toward the end of 1986 and have continued to improve since then.
Although improvement in the nominal trade figures to date has been

the trade data for the first nine months of this year indicate

that the U.S.

trade balance improved considerably from its level last

We anticipate a continuation of this trend of lower U.S.

deficits in the year ahead.


One reason forecasters are predicting a continued reduction in the
U.S. external deficit is the fairly continuous and dramatic depreciation
of the dollar since early 1985 to a level close to where it was in 1980.
Although the trade accounts have shown less adjustment than some would
have anticipated from such a sharp depreciation,
reasons for expecting a delayed adjustment.

there are technical

Trade volumes react with a

fairly substantial lag to changes in prices.

Dollar prices of imports

typically respond with a Lag t o changes in exchange rates.

And the

dollar's almost continuous depreciation until this year has meant that a
series of so-called J-curve effects wouLd have tended to obscure the
improvement in the underlying current account position for a period of

These J-curve effects occur because import volumes adjust more

slowly than import prices.

Thus, when the dollar deprec icites, the cost

of imports rises initially, and the trade balance weakens.
Adjustment of the U.S. external deficit, on the one hand, and the
Japanese and German surpluses on the other,

should occur without imposing

undue strains on other countries involved in the multilateral trading

For example,

it would be undesirable to have Japan's surplus

increase with the developing countries, or some of the smaller European
countries at the same time as it succeeds in lowering its surplus with
the United States.

What is necessary is a reduction of Japan's global

A consequence for Japan of a smaller total external surplus is that
the external sector's contribution to Japan's total GNP growth is

Alternative sources of aggregate demand,

necessary to sustain a reasonable growth rate.
countries in surplus,

therefore, will be


like other

is reducing the contribution to its overall growth

from international or external sources and increasing the contribution to




growth from domestic or internal sources.

For this to continue,


balance of domestic and internationally oriented policies must be

in Japan and elsewhere.

In 1987, Germany's bilateral surplus with the United States declined
slightly, but its surplus with its European trading partners increased.
These trends appear to have continued this year.

This sort of adjustment

has economic and political consequences within the European Community and
within the European Monetary System.

It places strains on the currencies

of the countries in deficit within the European Monetary System.


through these pressures in exchange markets it places strains on trading
relationships and can affect levels of production and employment in the
European Community.

To reduce its total external surplus, Germany,


Japan, must increase the contribution to growth from internal or domestic
sources relative to the contribution from international or external
The external adjustment problem facing the United States is
essentially the opposite of that confronting Japan and Germany - - w e must
increase the relative contribution to growth from external sources, that
i s , from net ex p o r t s .

I have already mentioned the important role played

by the appreciation of the dollar in leading to the sharp deterioration
of the U.S.

trade balance,

and the important role played by the dollar's

depreciation since early 1985 in the subsequent turnaround in our
external accounts.

Since the U.S. external deficit remains large,


are tempted to say simply that more dollar depreciation is needed.
Indeed, nearly all econometric models of U.S.

trade -- if taken literally

-- convey this message in that they predict that if the dollar stays at
roughly current levels the improving trend in the trade deficit will
continue for a few more years, but then the deficit will resume widening.


there are many reasons for not taking these models literally.

First, calculations of relative costs of production in the United States
and its major trading partners suggest that at current exchange rates,
U.S. producers are already very competitive with their foreign


the econometric models do not adequately capture

the lags involved in supply-side adjustments to changes in exchange rates
(and relative profitability).

This latter concern is particularly

relevant when the exchange rate changes are as large as they have been in
the 1980s.
Thus, we really do not know how much additional U.S. external
adjustment is "in the pipeline" already or whether the dollar has reached
a sustainable level.

What we do know is that a declining dollar can have

adverse consequences for the rate of inflation and, therefore, can
complicate the other major objective of U.S. macroeconomic policy that I
mentioned earlier -- the preservation and consolidation of the gains made
during the 1980s in the area of inflation and internal adjustment.

It is

largely for this reason that policymakers have welcomed the period of
more-or-less stability of the dollar experienced for much of this year.
In summary, a large part of the global adjustment process is the
achievement of a better balance between saving and investment behavior.
The United States must provide a better environment for domestic saving.
An increase in U.S. domestic saving relative to domestic investment would
reduce the U.S. dependence on foreign capital and allow U.S.
rates to be lower than they might otherwise have to be.


We all stand to

gain if this results from stronger U.S. saving rather than diminished

Likewise, other countries,

including among others, Japan and

Germany, must become less dependent on their export sectors for growth.
They must encourage the further development of their domestic markets and




thereby increase domestic investment both absolutely and relative to
domestic savings.
But this may not be accomplished easily and smoothly if left to
international financial markets alone.

There is a sensitive policy

balance that must be struck between domestic and international policy
objectives in leading economies in the industrial world.

And this fine

balance requires continuous and informed dialogue between policymakers.
National leaders have an important role to play in this process.
Economic performance in the major industrial countries should be
monitored closely.

There should be candid and frequent consultations.

And as in the past there will undoubtedly be concerted and coordinated
measures to reduce external imbalances and related,

and potentially

costly, pressures in financial markets.
Such a process has been pursued in the Group of Seven and in other
international forums.
close contact,

Through these forums,

economic policymakers are in

discussing their objectives and evaluating the policy

alternatives that might achieve those objectives.

It is a challenging

process that at times requires coordinated efforts, with one eye on
domestic objectives and the other on international objectives.

in turn, have consequences for domestic growth,

financial market developments.