Saturday, September 7, 2013

Trade Discussion so far: Mostly just Accounting

Most of what I've posted about trade so far is just accounting.  That is, there is not a lot of trade policy involved other than trade deals need to be settled in a timely manner.  The deals here are exchanges of goods and services from one nation for goods and services from another nation, and all the intermediate transactions that occur between the settlement of balance of trade between the two nations.  All the ideas about trade is exchange of goods and services, that money is merely an intermediary, and that trade isn't settled until the goods and services exchanged from one nation balances with the goods and services from the counter party nation.  These ideas are fundamentally based on merely keeping track of who sent what to whom, which is just accounting.

This is just like business accounting, and like business accounting there are accounts receivable for who owes you, and accounts payable for who you owe, only in trade these are called the trade surplus and the trade deficit.  But, in business there are usually terms for payment which typically are: On delivery or net 30, 60, or 90 days.  Beyond 90 days is usually considered seriously delinquent.  Late payments affect a company's cash flow, or how much cash it has on hand to pay its bills.  If many customers are seriously delinquent then the company is going to run low on cash and may not be able to pay its bill on time.  Sometimes this impedes the ability of the company to function, or worse drives the company out of business.  The US is currently decades overdue in settling its trade, as it has been carrying an enormous trade deficit, now totaling in the trillions of dollars, for those many years.  How many businesses could survive, or would stand for, settlement delinquencies of decades in length?  Probably few to none.  Its plain to see that such long dislocations of settlement can't help but affect the operations of the affected parties.  Any plans for the future would continually need to be altered as the lack of the resources that settlement would have provided comes to affect what actions can be taken.

But, a nation is not a company, and the US is not just another nation as it produces the worlds reserve currency.  So, it appears that many nations and the IMF and World Bank are happy to oblige serious delinquencies in settlement of trade.  The US is not going to run out of USD because the government can, in principle, produce as much as is needed.  That is, the US can never have a cash flow problem.  Although, from all the hype in the media one would think this was possible, alas a sovereign country controls its currency and can produce as much as needed.  As long as these nations take the intermediary of USD as an IOU for goods and services, that eventually need to be shipped from the US to those countries, this imbalance will continue.  But, how much longer will it go on?

It appears that the US policy is to run massive trade deficits, as it is completely within its power to end these deficits and bring about balanced trade.  The policies of other nations are a bit less clear as to why they would continue giving trade credit to the US.  Perhaps they don't want to jeopardize relations with the US, or in some cases want to grow their own industries via their own trade surpluses.  In any case, these nations can do accounting as well as any other, and they are quite cognizant of the massive amount of USD that they hold.  Their books are kept up to date and the lack of settlement is carried forward year after year.  Once the trade is settled, the trades and cash disappear from the accounting books, and go into the closed files.  This is the sure sign that trade is settled between countries.  And the massive current account balance that the US carries is a sure sign that the trade with other nations is not settled.

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