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Lesson 3: The Current Account and Measuring Trade Flows

Lesson 3: The Current Account and Measuring Trade Flows

In our last lesson we looked at the second category of what moves the forex market with a look at capital flows. In today’s lesson we are going to continue our free forex trading course with a look at how trader flows are measured, through something which is known as the current account.

While the concept that we are going to be covering here is fairly involved, I am covering this not because I feel we need to know all the details, but because having a general understanding of how the flows of money in and out of a country are measured, is important to help understand how the value of currency is affected by those flows. Now that we have an understanding of both trade and capital flows we are going to learn how each is measured starting with the current account.

The basic formula for calculating the current account for a country, is exports - imports of goods and services (also referred to as the balance of trade) Net Factor Income from Abroad (basically interest and dividends) net transfer payments (like aid given to foreign countries).

In general for the countries whose currencies we are focused on, the balance of trade portion of the formula is the main component we are concerned with and very little if anything will ever be heard about the other two components.

When thinking about a countries imports and exports (balance of trade), you will often hear a country described as having either a current account surplus or a current account deficit. A current account surplus basically means that a country is exporting more than they are importing which, as we learned in our lesson on trade flows, should strengthen the value of the currency all else being equal. A current account deficit basically means that a country is importing more than it is exporting which should weaken the value of its currency all else being equal.

If you remember from our lesson on trade flows I gave the example there of a US company needing to import 1 Million Dollars worth of steel from a Canadian steel producer. Just to give a simple example lets say for a second that this was the only transaction that both the United States and Canada did with foreign countries. If this were the case then the United states would have a current account deficit of 1 Million Dollars and Canada would have a current account surplus of 1 Million dollars.

Now obviously there are millions of transactions just like this one which go on between countries all over the world. The current account measures these transactions so we as traders can have an idea of whether the value of a countries currency should be increasing or decreasing based on the trade flows of that country, all else being equal.

As of this lesson China has the largest current account surplus at $363 Billion and the United States had the largest current account deficit at $747 Billion. It is because of this that many argue China's currency is too weak and the US Dollar is too strong, two imbalances which have started to right themselves over the last year.

Here is a graph of the current accounts of some of the major countries whose currencies we are focused on, so you can have an idea of whether those countries are more import or export oriented. As we will learn this is something which is going to be important when analyzing economic data relating to those currencies.

Japan: A Surplus of $201 Billion
Germany: A Surplus of $185 Billion
Switzerland: A Surplus of $67 Billion
Canada: A Surplus of $28 Billion
New Zealand: A deficit of $10 Billion
France: A deficit of $35 Billion
Australia: A Deficit of $50 Billion
Italy: A Deficit of $58 Billion
United Kingdom: A Deficit of $111 Billion

That's our lesson for today. In our next lesson we will look at how the capital flows side of the equation is measured so we hope to see you in that lesson.




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