Capital flows are fickle. In the UK, the largest and most volatile component of inflows from foreign investors are so-called ‘other investment flows’ – the foreign capital which flows into banks and other financial institutions. But where do these funds ultimately go and which sectors are particularly exposed to fickle capital inflows? Do capital inflows allow domestic firms to borrow more? Or does capital from abroad ultimately finance mortgages of UK households? Some of the foreign capital could also get passed on to the financial sector or flow back abroad.
In 2016 the UK’s current account deficit was 5.9% of GDP, the widest since official records began in 1948. Many economists, including the IMF and FPC have suggested the UK is therefore vulnerable to foreign investors becoming less willing to invest in the country. In this post we challenge the idea that the UK is at the mercy of the “kindness of strangers”. Looking at gross, rather than net capital flows since 2012 suggests inflows have been extremely subdued relative to past levels. Instead, the UK has benefitted from increasing capital gains on past foreign investments and used these to fund its spending. We argue this carries lower financial stability risks than relying on gross inflows to cover the current account deficit.
In the last few years there has been a small net overall flow of capital from advanced to emerging market economies (EMEs), in contrast to the ‘paradox’ prevailing for much of this century of capital flowing the ‘wrong’ way, uphill from poor to rich countries. In this post we show the ‘paradox’ in the aggregate flows actually concealed private capital flowing the ‘right’ way for much of the time. And even during recent turbulence, foreign direct investment (FDI) flows, likely to be particularly beneficial to growth, have persisted. But EMEs could still benefit more from harnessing capital from advanced economies and Argentina has set a useful precedent as it prepares to take over the Presidency of the G20 in 2018.
Glenn Hoggarth, Carsten Jung and Dennis Reinhardt.
Supporters of financial globalisation argue that global finance allows investors to diversify risks, it increases efficiency and fosters technology transfer. The critics point to the history of financial crises which were associated with booms and busts in capital inflows. In our recent paper ‘Capital inflows – the good, the bad and the bubbly’, we argue that the risks depend on the type of capital inflow, the type of lender and also the currency denomination of the inflows. We find that equity inflows are more stable than debt, foreign banks are more flighty than non-bank creditors, and flows denominated in local currency are more stable than in foreign currency. We also find evidence that macroprudential policies can make capital inflows more stable.
In some parts of the emerging world, housing markets have grown well ahead of income in recent years. Will a US monetary policy normalisation bring about a correction in house prices as the search for yield unwinds and capital flows back to the US? Looking at the past through the prism of a structural VAR, we think the answer is “yes it will”. Shocks to global liquidity have much larger effects on house prices in emerging markets than in advanced world economies. A tightening in global liquidity conditions also leads to a rapid capital account reversal, exchange rate depreciation and hence a sharp fall in consumption.