August 26, 2017 / 3:04 PM / a month ago

U.S. current account imbalance unlikely to diminish: researcher

FILE PHOTO - A police officer keeps watch in front of the U.S. Federal Reserve in Washington, DC, U.S. on October 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

(Reuters) - The United States will likely continue to run a large current account deficit against other countries because of its status as a global safe asset haven among other reasons, a U.S. economist told an annual symposium of some of the world’s most influential central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, on Saturday.

University of Wisconsin, Madison, professor Menzie Chinn’s research also suggests lawmakers in the United States should look to domestic fiscal policy if they want to reduce external imbalances.

A glut of savings in other countries historically has fueled capital flows into the United States, and while global imbalances have shrunk back to pre-crisis levels such flows will continue to weigh on the nation’s current account balance, especially as the quantity of safe assets has diminished in recent years.

The current account measures the flow of goods, services and investments into and out of a country.

Data shows that the savings glut effect on the current account has faded somewhat but the budget balance has retained its importance since the financial crisis, Chinn said in a paper delivered on the final day of the flagship three-day economic conference.

“Policymakers are clearly not going to seek to diminish America’s ability to generate safe assets. On the other hand, fiscal policy can (and has) had a noticeable influence on current account imbalances,” Chinn told the conference, whose theme this year is how to foster a dynamic global economy.

Global imbalances worry policymakers because they are seen as a risk to financial stability, though views differ on how much of a threat they pose.

The U.S. Congress faces a looming budget battle when it reconvenes in early September. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump promised to shut down the U.S. government if necessary to secure funding for a wall along the border with Mexico.

“For the United States, although the budget balance is not the largest single contributor to the current account imbalances, it is a substantial factor,” Chinn said.

That said, other factors will continue to keep the deficit in place, including the flow of excess savings to the United States.

A large proportion of capital flowing to the United States takes place in the form of purchases of U.S. government securities, particularly by foreign central banks. China and Japan are the largest foreign holders of U.S. government debt.

“While the particular creditor economies might change over time, the U.S. will tend to continue to run deficits larger than is explicable by other factors,” he said.

With monetary policy tightening in the United States and the euro area and similar action in Japan unlikely in the near future “that particular combination will likely lead to an exacerbation, rather than amelioration, of the U.S. current account deficit,” Chinn said.

Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Andrea Ricci

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