Lesson 1, Topic 1
In Progress

Balance of Payments

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The balance of payments is a statement of all transactions made between entities in one country and the rest of the world over a defined period of time, such as a quarter or a year.

The balance of payments (henceforth BOP) is a consolidated account of the receipts and pay- ments from and to other countries arising out of all economic transactions during the course of a year.

In the words of C. B. Kindleberger; “The balance of payments of a country is a systematic record of all economic transactions between the residents of the reporting and the residents of the foreign countries during a given period of time.”

Here, by ‘residents’ we mean individuals, firms and government. By all economic transactions we mean transactions of both visible goods (merchandise) and invisible goods (services), assets, gifts, etc. In other words, BOP shows how money is spent abroad (i.e. payments) and how money is received domestically (i.e., receipts). Thus, a BOP account records all payments and re- ceipts arising out of all economictransactions.

All payments are regarded as debits (i.e., outflow of money) and are recorded in the accounts with a negative sign and all receipts are regarded as credits (i.e., inflow of money) and are recorded in the accounts with a positive sign. The International Monetary Fund defines BOP as a “statistical statement that subsequently summarises, for a specific time period, the economic transactions of an economy with the rest of the world.”

The balance of payments (BOP) is the method countries use to monitor all international monetary transactions at a specific period. Usually, the BOP is calculated every quarter and every calendar year. All trades conducted by both the private and public sectors are accounted for in the BOP to determine how much money is going in and out of a country. If a country has received money, this is known as a credit, and if a country has paid or given money, the transaction is counted as a debit. Theoretically, the BOP should be zero, meaning that assets (credits) and liabilities (debits) should balance, but in practice, this is rarely the case. Thus, the BOP can tell the observer if a country has a deficit or a surplus and from which part of the economy the discrepancies are stemming.

The Balance of Payments Divided

The BOP is divided into three main categories: the current account, the capital account, and the financial account. Within these three categories are sub-divisions, each of which accounts for a different type of international monetary transaction.

The Current Account

The current account is used to mark the inflow and outflow of goods and services into a country. Earnings on investments, both public and private, are also put into the current account.

Within the current account are credits and debits on the trade of merchandise, which includes goods such as raw materials and manufactured goods that are bought, sold or given away (possibly in the form of aid). Services refer to receipts from tourism, transportation (like the levy

that must be paid in Egypt when a ship passes through the Suez Canal), engineering, business service fees (from lawyers or management consulting, for example) and royalties from patents and copyrights. When combined, goods and services together make up a country’s balance oftrade (BOT). The BOT is typically the biggest bulk of a country’s balance of payments as it makes up total imports and exports. If a country has a balance of trade deficit, it imports more than it exports, and if it has a balance of trade surplus, it exports more than it imports.

Receipts from income-generating assets such as stocks (in the form of dividends) are also recorded in the current account. The last component of the current account is unilateral transfers. These are credits that are mostly worker’s remittances, which are salaries sent back into the home country of a national working abroad, as well as foreign aid that is directly received.

The current account is usually divided in three subdivisions:

The first of these is called visible account or merchandise account or trade in goods account. This account records imports and exports of physical goods. The balance of visible exports and visible imports is called balance of visible trade or balance of merchandise trade [i.e., items 1(a), and 2(b) of Table 11.1].

The second part of the account is called the invisibles account since it records all exports and imports of services. The balance of these transactions is called balance of invisible trade. As these transactions are not recorded in the customs office unlike merchandise trade we call them invisible items.

It includes freights and fares of ships and planes, insurance and banking charges, foreign tours and education abroad, expenditures on foreign embassies, transactions out of interest and dividends on foreigners’ investment, and so on. Items 2(a) and 2(b) comprise services balance or balance of invisible trade.

The difference between merchandise trade and invisible trade (i.e., items 1 and 2) is known as balance of trade.

There is another flow in current account that consists of two items [3(a) and 3(b)]. Investment income consists of interest, profit and dividends on bonus and credits. Interest earned by a U.S. resident from the TELCO share is one kind of investment income that represents a debit item here. There may be similar money inflow (i.e., credit item). Unrequited transfers include grants, gifts, pension, etc.

These items are such that no reverse flow occurs. Or these are the items against which no quid pro quo is demanded. Residents of a country receive these cost-free. Thus unilateral transfers are one-way transactions. In other words, these items do not involve give and take unlike other items in the BOP account.

Thus, the first three items of the BOP account are included in the current account. The current account is said to be favourable (or unfavourable) if receipts exceed (fall short of) payments.

The Capital Account

The capital account is where all international capital transfers are recorded. This refers to the acquisition or disposal of non-financial assets (for example, a physical asset such as land) and non-produced assets, which are needed for production but have not been produced, like a mine used for the extraction of diamonds.

The capital account is broken down into the monetary flows branching from debt forgiveness, the transfer of goods, and financial assets by migrants leaving or entering a country, the transfer of ownership on fixed assets (assets such as equipment used in the production process to generate income), the transfer of funds received to the sale or acquisition of fixed assets, gift and inheritance taxes, death levies and, finally, uninsured damage to fixed assets.

The Financial Account

In the financial account, international monetary flows related to investment in business, real estate, bonds and stocks are documented. Also included are government-owned assets such as foreign reserves, gold, special drawing rights (SDRs) held with the International Monetary Fund(IMF), private assets held abroad and direct foreign investment. Assets owned by foreigners, private and official, are also recorded in the financial account.

The Balancing Act

The current account should be balanced against the combined-capital and financial accounts; however, as mentioned above, this rarely happens. We should also note that, with fluctuating exchange rates, the change in the value of money can add to BOP discrepancies. When there is a deficit in the current account, which is a balance of trade deficit, the difference can be borrowed or funded by the capital account.

If a country has a fixed asset abroad, this borrowed amount is marked as a capital account outflow. However, the sale of that fixed asset would be considered a current account inflow (earnings from investments). The current account deficit would thus be funded. When a country has a current account deficit that is financed by the capital account, the country is actually foregoing capital assets for more goods and services. If a country is borrowing money to fund its current account deficit, this would appear as an inflow of foreign capital in the BOP.

Liberalizing the Accounts

The rise of global financial transactions and trade in the late-20th century spurred BOP and macroeconomic liberalization in many developing nations. With the advent of the emerging market economic boom – in which capital flows into these markets tripled from USD$50 million to $150 million from the late 1980s until the Asian crisis – developing countries were urged to lift restrictions on capital and financial-account transactions to take advantage of these capital inflows. Many of these countries had restrictive macroeconomic policies, by which regulations prevented foreign ownership of financial and non-financial assets. The regulations also limited the transfer of funds abroad.

With capital and financial account liberalization, capital markets began to grow, not only allowing a more transparent and sophisticated market for investors but also giving rise to foreigndirect investment (FDI). For example, investments in the form of a new power station would bring a country greater exposure to new technologies and efficiency, eventually increasing the nation’s overall gross domestic product (GDP) by allowing for greater volumes of production.

Liberalization can also facilitate less risk by allowing greater diversification in various markets.

The Bottom Line

The balance of payments is divided into the current account, capital account, and financial account. Theoretically, the BOP should be zero.


  1. Define Balance of Payments(B.O.P).
  2. Discuss the components of Balance of Payments.
  3. What is the Balancing Act?


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  2. Raymond A. Barnett , Michael R. Ziegler , Karl E. Byleen, 2014, Calculus for Business, Economics, Life Sciences, and Social Sciences (13th Edition) 13thEdition
  3. Chang H.J., (2014). Economics: The User’s Guide: A Pelican Introduction. Pelican. Journal of Economics and Business -Elsevier