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IB DP Economics Study Notes

3.3.4 Balance of Payments Stability

The balance of payments is a pivotal component in understanding a country's economic relationships with the rest of the world. When discussing balance of payments stability, we delve into the intricacies of international transactions and their implications for a nation's economic stability. This segment offers a comprehensive look into the definition, components, and significance of balance of payments stability.


The balance of payments (BoP) can be conceptualised as a financial statement, delineating the monetary transactions between a particular country and other nations over a given period. When we speak of Balance of Payments Stability, we're referring to a scenario where a country's inflows and outflows of foreign currency are nearly equivalent, resulting in neither significant surplus nor deficit. Understanding the components of the balance of payments is crucial for analysing its stability.

An image illustrating the balance of payments formula

Image courtesy of dachpian

Maintaining Stability

Achieving stability in the BoP is often a prime goal for national economic policies. Fluctuations or imbalances, especially prolonged ones, can lead to economic repercussions, including adjustments in exchange rates or changes in economic policies. The types of exchange rate systems play a significant role in how countries manage their balance of payments.


The balance of payments is a comprehensive account and can be bifurcated into two primary components:

1. Current Account:

The current account primarily focuses on day-to-day transactions that have real economic effects.

  • Goods and Services: The most talked-about segment, this consists of the trade balance. It is the net total of a country's exports and imports of goods and services. A surplus indicates earnings surpass expenditures, while a deficit means the opposite.
  • Primary Income: This is driven by investment incomes. For instance, if a British company has an investment in an overseas venture and earns dividends on it, it will be recorded here.
  • Secondary Income: Often overlooked but crucial, this consists of money transfers, including workers' remittances, pensions, and more. For instance, money sent home by British nationals working abroad would be counted here.
IB Economics Tutor Tip: A balanced BoP reflects not just economic stability but also a country's strategic economic policy effectiveness in managing its international trade and investment flows.

2. Capital and Financial Account:

This component showcases the financial side, emphasising the buying and selling of investments.

  • Capital Account: This records certain financial transfers, such as forgiveness of international debt or transfer of ownership of fixed assets. It also includes non-produced, non-financial assets.
  • Financial Account: A critical segment, it details transactions leading to a change in international ownership of assets and liabilities. It consists of:
    • Direct Investments: These are investments where the investor has a significant influence on the management of an entity, typically seen as ownership of at least 10% of shares.
    • Portfolio Investments: Investment in a mix of assets (like shares, bonds, etc.), where the investor doesn't have a significant influence on the entity.
    • Other Investments: This is a broader category encompassing various forms of loans, currency deposits, and more.
An infographic illustrating Bangladesh’s balance of payments

Image courtesy of tbsnews


Balance of payments stability holds immense importance for a nation's economy:

1. Indicator of Economic Health:

A continuous, sizable deficit might signal underlying economic weaknesses, such as declining competitiveness in the global market or over-reliance on external debt. The terms of trade can also provide insights into a country's economic health and its impact on balance of payments stability.

2. Influence on Currency Value:

A strong correlation exists between BoP and the value of a nation's currency. A BoP surplus can push the currency value up, making imports cheaper and exports costlier, while a deficit often depreciates the currency, potentially boosting exports but making imports pricier.

3. Impact on Interest Rates:

Central banks might adjust interest rates in response to BoP trends. For instance, to counteract a deficit, a central bank might hike interest rates to lure foreign capital. The effectiveness of such measures, however, may be influenced by the limitations of monetary policy.

4. Implications for Foreign Policy and Sovereignty:

Heavy reliance on foreign debt can jeopardise a nation's economic autonomy. International creditors might exert undue influence on domestic policy decisions. Moreover, the limitations of fiscal policy can affect a country's ability to manage its balance of payments.

5. Investment Signals:

The BoP status serves as a beacon for international investors. A robust and stable BoP can be enticing for foreign direct investment as it portends a solid economy. Conversely, BoP volatility might deter potential investments.

6. Guidance for Economic Policies:

BoP trends often inform governmental economic strategies. A nation grappling with persistent trade deficits might resort to protectionism, using tools like tariffs to curb imports.

7. International Confidence and Reputation:

A stable BoP can enhance a country's credibility in the international market. This can lead to better terms in international contracts and borrowing terms.

IB Tutor Advice: For exam success, focus on understanding how BoP components interact and affect a nation's economy, rather than just memorising their definitions. Apply real-world examples to demonstrate your comprehension.

In essence, balance of payments stability goes beyond being a mere statistical record. It's a pulse of a nation's economic vigour and its interactions on the global stage. Grasping its definition, components, and overarching significance is indispensable for any student venturing into the realm of international economics.


Maintaining a perpetual balance of payments surplus is challenging and might not be sustainable. An ongoing surplus may lead to an appreciation of the country's currency, as demand for it increases. This appreciation might erode the competitive edge of exports, potentially causing a reduction in the trade surplus. Moreover, other nations might retaliate against perceived unfair trade practices, imposing tariffs or restrictions. Internally, consistent surpluses might also mask underlying economic inefficiencies or overreliance on exports. It's also noteworthy that international entities, like the World Trade Organisation, may intervene if they believe persistent surpluses are destabilising global trade balances.

Exchange rates play a pivotal role in the balance of payments. When a country's currency appreciates, its exports become more expensive for foreign buyers, and its imports become cheaper for domestic consumers. This situation can potentially widen a current account deficit or reduce a surplus. Conversely, if the currency depreciates, exports become cheaper and potentially more competitive, while imports become more expensive. This can help in narrowing a current account deficit or enhancing a surplus. Moreover, currency fluctuations can influence foreign direct investments, remittances, interest payments on external debt, and the valuation of foreign assets and liabilities, all of which are reflected in the balance of payments.

Devaluing one's currency can be a strategic move to improve the balance of payments. When a country devalues its currency, its exports become cheaper for foreign buyers, potentially increasing export volume and boosting the trade balance. Conversely, imports become more expensive, leading to reduced import volumes. The cumulative effect might improve the current account balance. Additionally, a weaker currency can attract foreign investments and tourism, given the increased purchasing power of foreign currency. However, intentional devaluation is not without risks, including potential retaliatory measures from trading partners, increased import costs leading to inflation, and waning investor confidence if the devaluation is perceived as a sign of economic instability.

If a country continuously operates with a significant current account deficit, several ramifications can arise. Firstly, it may lead to increased reliance on foreign capital. While this can be beneficial in the short-term, over time, it may lead to higher interest payments and a ballooning external debt. Secondly, there might be a depreciation of the national currency, making imports more expensive but exports cheaper. Though this might improve the trade balance, it may increase domestic inflation. Furthermore, prolonged deficits might dent investor confidence, possibly leading to reduced foreign investments. Lastly, countries might be forced to adopt contractionary fiscal and monetary policies to remedy the situation.

This scenario is entirely plausible and occurs when the capital inflow surpasses the current account outflow. Essentially, if a country is buying more goods, services, and making more unilateral transfers than it's selling (resulting in a current account deficit), it may finance this deficit by selling assets or by borrowing (resulting in a surplus in its capital and financial account). These assets could range from government bonds to company shares. Moreover, foreign direct investments, portfolio investments, and other loans may result in an influx of capital, balancing out the deficit from the current account.

Practice Questions

Explain the significance of the balance of payments stability for a nation's economy.

The balance of payments stability is paramount for several reasons. Firstly, it acts as a barometer for the country's economic health. A prolonged BoP deficit may underline weaknesses like diminishing global competitiveness or dependence on external debt. Moreover, BoP has direct ties with currency value; a surplus may appreciate currency, influencing import and export prices, while a deficit may do the opposite. Also, central banks may modify interest rates in response to BoP trajectories. Furthermore, a stable BoP can attract foreign investment, given its reflection of economic strength. Lastly, it impacts international reputation, influencing borrowing terms and international trade relationships.

Distinguish between the main components of the balance of payments.

The balance of payments encompasses two primary components: the current account and the capital and financial account. The current account deals with daily transactions influencing real economic impact, such as trade in goods and services, primary income from investments, and secondary income like remittances. Conversely, the capital and financial account portrays the financial side, detailing transactions causing alterations in international ownership of assets and liabilities. This includes the capital account, which records particular financial transfers and non-produced assets, and the financial account, which captures direct investments, portfolio investments, and other diverse investments like loans and currency deposits.

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Written by: Dave
Cambridge University - BA Hons Economics

Dave is a Cambridge Economics graduate with over 8 years of tutoring expertise in Economics & Business Studies. He crafts resources for A-Level, IB, & GCSE and excels at enhancing students' understanding & confidence in these subjects.

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