Benn Steil


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

It’s (Almost) All Good on U.S. Trade Imbalances – China Remains Exception

by Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The yearly U.S. trade deficit peaked at 6.4% of GDP in August 2006. It improved significantly after the financial crisis, bottoming out at 3.6% in January 2010. This swing provided a boost to GDP and nudged the U.S. external balance toward a more sustainable level. The deficit then resumed an upward march, reaching 4.3% by November. A closer look at America’s bilateral trading relationships since the deficit high-point in 2006 reveals a significant improvement with many countries, and only a small deterioration with a few others. China – with which the U.S. has its largest deficit – is the conspicuous exception, as the figure shows. 2011 looks set to be a year of yet further-rising trade tensions between the two countries. Read more »

Sovereign Credibility and Bank Runs

by Wednesday, January 5, 2011

In the midst of the financial crisis of 2008, governments helped to prevent bank runs by guaranteeing bank debts. Yet as sovereign solvency itself becomes an issue, such guarantees quickly lose their value. If Ireland provides a rule of thumb, bank runs can be expected once sovereign credit default swap yields pass 3%. The figure above shows that when Irish government CDS yields first passed 3% in early 2009, foreign deposits fled the country. This happened again in late 2010. Now that Spanish CDS yields have broken the 3% threshold, there is reason to be concerned about the stability of Spanish bank deposits as well. Read more »