The balance of payments, also known as balance of international payments and abbreviated B.O.P. or BoP, of a country is the record of all economic transactions between the residents of the country and the rest of world in a particular period of time (over a quarter of a year or more commonly over a year). The balance of payments is a summary of all monetary transactions between a country and rest of the world. These transactions are made by individuals, firms and government bodies. Thus the balance of payments includes all external visible and non-visible transactions of a country. It is an important issue to be studied, especially in international financial management field, for a few reasons.
First, the balance of payments provides detailed information concerning the demand and supply of a country’s currency. For example, if Sudan imports more than it exports, then this means that the quantity supplied of Sudanese pounds by the domestic market is likely to exceed the quantity demanded in the foreign exchanging market, ceteris paribus. One can thus infer that the Sudanese pound would be under pressure to depreciate against other currencies. On the other hand, if Sudan exports more than it imports, then the Sudanese pound would be likely to appreciate.
Second, a country’s balance of payments data may signal its potential as a business partner for the rest of the world. If a country is grappling with a major balance of payments difficulty, it may not be able to expand imports from the outside world. Instead, the country may be tempted to impose measures to restrict imports and discourage capital outflows in order to improve the balance of payments situation. On the other hand, a country with a significant balance-of payment surplus would be more likely to expand imports, offering marketing opportunities for foreign enterprises, and less likely to impose foreign exchange restrictions.
Third, balance of payments data can be used to evaluate the performance of the country in international economic competition. Suppose a country is experiencing trade deficits year after year. This trade data may then signal that the country’s domestic industries lack international competitiveness.
To interpret balance of payments data properly, it is necessary to understand how the balance of payments account is constructed. These transactions include payments for the country’s exports and imports of goods, services, financial capital, and financial transfers. It is prepared in a single currency, typically the domestic currency for the country concerned. Balance of Payment account keeps the systematic records of all the economic transactions (visible and non-visible) both of a country with all other countries in the given or specific periods. In BoP account, all the receipts from abroad are recorded as credit and all the payments to abroad are debit. Since, the account is maintained by double entry book keeping system, it shows the balance of payment account is always balanced. Sources of funds for a nation, such as exports or the receipts of loans and investments, are recorded as positive or surplus items. Uses of funds, such as for imports or to invest in foreign countries, are recorded as negative or deficit items.
When all components of the BoP accounts are included they must sum to zero with no overall surplus or deficit. For example, if a country is importing more than it exports, its trade balance will be in deficit, but the shortfall will have to be counterbalanced in other ways – such as by funds earned from its foreign investments, by running down currency reserves or by receiving loans from other countries.
While the overall BoP accounts will always balance when all types of payments are included, imbalances are possible on individual elements of the BoP, such as the current account, the capital accountexcluding the central bank’s reserve account, or the sum of the two. Imbalances in the latter sum can result in surplus countries accumulating wealth, while deficit nations become increasingly indebted. The term “balance of payments” often refers to this sum: a country’s balance of payments is said to be in surplus (equivalently, the balance of payments is positive) by a specific amount if sources of funds (such as export goods sold and bonds sold) exceed uses of funds (such as paying for imported goods and paying for foreign bonds purchased) by that amount. There is said to be a balance of payments deficit (the balance of payments is said to be negative) if the former are less than the latter. A BoP surplus (or deficit) is accompanied by an accumulation (or decumulation) of foreign exchange reserves by the central bank.
Under a fixed exchange rate system, the central bank accommodates those flows by buying up any net inflow of funds into the country or by providing foreign currency funds to the foreign exchange market to match any international outflow of funds, thus preventing the funds flows from affecting the exchange rate between the country’s currency and other currencies. Then the net change per year in the central bank’s foreign exchange reserves is sometimes called the balance of payments surplus or deficit. Alternatives to a fixed exchange rate system include a managed float where some changes of exchange rates are allowed, or at the other extreme a purely floating exchange rate (also known as a purely flexible exchange rate). With a pure float the central bank does not intervene at all to protect or devalue its currency, allowing the rate to be set by the market, and the central bank’s foreign exchange reserves do not change, and the balance of payments is always zero.