Benn Steil


A graphical take on geoeconomic issues, with links to the news and expert commentary.

U.S. Current Account Imbalance: Oil vs. Non-Oil

by Monday, November 30, 2009


The U.S. non-oil current account balance started to improve in 2006 after a period of real dollar depreciation beginning in 2002. However, the overall deficit remained high, reflecting the run-up in oil prices. The deficit improved substantially after oil prices collapsed during the financial crisis. As the crisis recedes oil prices have started to rise and the dollar has resumed its fall suggesting the potential for a continued improvement in the non-oil deficit, but deterioration in the oil balance. The net effect is likely to be a worsening of the current account deficit. Read more »

How “Global” Are Global Imbalances?

by Monday, November 23, 2009


Global imbalances, as reflected in the current account deficits and surpluses of the world’s major regions, fell with the collapse of trade and oil prices in 2008, but should rise again as both recover. This chart shows that global imbalances are driven primarily by the U.S. and China. Absent significant macroeconomic policy changes in one or both, the likelihood of a sustained, significant improvement in global imbalances, without another crisis, is small. Read more »

Legislative Federal Debt Ceiling

by Monday, November 16, 2009


The United States is rapidly approaching its legal debt limit of just over $12 trillion. As of September 2009, U.S. debt stood at $11.9 trillion. As these charts indicate, Congress has raised the limit four times in the past three years, as the need for financing has risen. Some hope that the limit will encourage fiscal responsibility. Others fear that this exercise raises the risk of a technical default, as nearly occurred in 1995, which would disrupt markets and potentially impose severe costs on a struggling economy. Read more »

Global Supply Chain

by Monday, November 9, 2009


Over the last decade, Asia has developed into a major manufacturing base for the developed world. This relationship has provided mutual benefits: the West has received cheap goods while the East has developed its production capacity more quickly. China, to a significant extent, has been the assembler nation, importing raw materials and intermediate products from the rest of Asia and exporting finished products to the West. This relationship is illustrated in the chart above, which plots China’s imports from Asia and its exports to the U.S. and Europe since January 2000. Recently, however, this relationship has weakened slightly — China is providing more demand for Asian exports than the West is providing for Chinese exports. An important question is whether the strong Asian recovery can continue without a robust recovery in Western demand for Chinese goods. Read more »

Stressed Union

by Monday, November 2, 2009


The greatest challenge of European monetary union is devising a single monetary policy for a large grouping of countries facing divergent economic conditions. As these charts show, this challenge has been thrust to the fore since 2008, as eurozone employment conditions have diverged dramatically across member countries. Whereas the effectiveness of independent monetary policy as a tool for managing employment in smaller open economies is much debated among economists, the political challenge facing the European Central Bank in having to justify its policy decisions under current conditions is clear. Read more »