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What is a 'Current Account Deficit'?

The current account deficit is a measurement of a country’s trade where the value of the goods and services it imports exceeds the value of the goods and services it exports. The current account includes net income, such as interest and dividends, and transfers, such as foreign aid, although these components make up only a small percentage of the total current account. The current account represents a country’s foreign transactions and, like the capital account, is a component of a country’s balance of payments.

BREAKING DOWN 'Current Account Deficit'

A current account deficit represents negative net sales abroad. Developed countries, such as the United States, often run current account deficits while emerging economies often run current account surpluses. Extremely poor countries tend to run current account deficits.

Managing a Current Account Deficit

A country can reduce its current account deficit by increasing the value of its exports relative to the value of imports. It can place restrictions on imports, such as tariffs or quotas, or it can emphasize policies that promote exports, such as import substitution, industrialization or policies that improve domestic companies' global competitiveness. The country can also use monetary policy to improve the domestic currency’s valuation relative to other currencies through devaluation, which reduces the cost of a country’s exports. 

While a current account deficit can imply that a country is spending “beyond its means," having a current account deficit is not inherently disadvantageous. If a country uses external debt to finance investments that have a higher return than the interest rate on the debt, it can remain solvent while running a current account deficit. If a country is unlikely to cover current debt levels with future revenue streams, however, it may become insolvent.

Examples of Current Account Deficit Fluctuations

Fluctuations in a country's current account are largely dependent on market forces. Even countries that purposefully run a current account deficit have volatility in the deficit. The United Kingdom, for example, saw a decrease in its current account deficit after the results of the Brexit vote in 2016.

The United Kingdom has traditionally run a current account deficit because it is a country with excessive imports financed through high levels of debt. A large portion of the country's exports are commodities, and declining commodity prices have resulted in lower earnings for domestic companies. This translates to less income flowing back into the United Kingdom, increasing its current account deficit.

However, after the British pound declined in value as a result of the Brexit vote on June 24, 2016, the weaker pound actually decreased the nation's current account deficit. This occurred because overseas dollar earnings were higher for domestic commodity companies, resulting in more cash inflows to the country.

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