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Statistical bulletin: Balance of Payments, Q1 2014 This product is designated as National Statistics

Released: 27 June 2014 Download PDF

Key points

  • The United Kingdom’s (UK) current account deficit was £18.5 billion in Quarter 1 2014, down from a revised deficit of £23.5 billion in Quarter 4 2013. The deficit in Quarter 1 2014 equated to 4.4% of GDP at current market prices, down from 5.7% in Quarter 4 2013.
  • The narrowing of the current account deficit was due to all three components improving.
  • The trade deficit narrowed to £5.5 billion in Quarter 1 2014, from £7.1 billion in Quarter 4 2013.
  • The income deficit narrowed to £7.4 billion in Quarter 1 2014, from £9.5 billion in Quarter 4 2013.
  • The current transfers deficit narrowed by £1.3 billion to £5.6 billion in Quarter 1 2014.
  • The financial account recorded net inward investment of £8.9 billion during Quarter 1 2014.
  • The international investment position recorded UK net liabilities of £81.8 billion at the end of Quarter 1 2014.

Summary

The balance of payments summarises the economic transactions of the UK with the rest of the world. These transactions can be broken down into three main accounts; the current account, the capital account and the financial account.

The current account comprises of the trade in goods and services account, the income account and current transfers. A difference in the monetary value of these accounts is known as the current account balance. A current account balance is in surplus if overall credits exceed debits and in deficit if overall debits exceed credits.

A deficit or surplus on the current account is offset with an equal and opposite surplus or deficit on the capital and financial account. As the capital account is relatively small in comparison, the current account and financial account can be said to be counterparts.

The current account balance plus the capital account balance measures the extent to which the UK is a net lender (that is, in surplus) or net borrower (that is, in deficit). The UK has run a combined current and capital account deficit in every year since 1983 and every quarter since Quarter 1 2008.

Figure 1: Current account balances (Seasonally adjusted)

Figure 1: Current account balances (Seasonally adjusted)

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Quarter 1 2014 overview

In Quarter 1 2014, the UK was a net borrower of £17.4 billion, down from £22.0 billion in Quarter 4 2013. This was due to the total income, total trade and total current transfers deficits narrowing by £2.1 billion, £1.6 billion and £1.3 billion respectively.

The narrowing of the total income deficit was mainly due to a rise of £1.3 billion in the direct investment surplus from £4.0 billion in Quarter 4 2013 to £5.4 billion in Quarter 1 2014. Additionally the portfolio investment deficit fell by £0.9 billion, decreasing from  £10.5 billion in Quarter 4 2013 to £9.6 billion in Quarter 1 2014.

The narrowing in the total trade deficit was due to a rise of £1.3 billion in the trade in services surplus and a fall of £0.3 billion in the trade in goods deficit. The increase in the trade in services surplus was due to exports increasing by £0.7 billion and imports decreasing by £0.6 billion in Quarter 1 2014.

Imports of goods fell by £3.1 billion, primarily due to lower imports of semi-manufactured goods, oil and finished manufactured goods which fell by £1.0 billion, £0.7 billion and £0.6 billion respectively in Quarter 1 2014. Exports of goods decreased by £2.8 billion in Quarter 1 2014, mainly due to lower exports of finished manufactured goods and semi-manufactured goods which fell by £1.2 billion and £1.1 billion respectively in Quarter 1 2014.

The deficit on total current transfers narrowed from £6.9 billion in Quarter 4 2013 to £5.6 billion in Quarter 1 2014. The decrease was mainly due to receipts (credits) increasing by £0.1 billion and payments (debits) decreasing by £1.2 billion.

Current account balances as percentage of GDP

Figure 2: Balances as percentage of GDP

Figure 2: Balances as percentage of GDP

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The current account deficit equated to 4.4% of GDP at current market prices in Quarter 1 2014, compared with 5.7% in Quarter 4 2013. The deficit on trade in goods and services was equivalent to 1.3% of GDP in Quarter 1 2014, compared with 1.7% in Quarter 4 2013. The deficit on income equated to 1.8% of GDP in Quarter 1 2014, compared with a deficit equivalent to 2.3% in Quarter 4 2013. The deficit on current transfers equated to 1.4% of GDP in Quarter 1 2014, compared with 1.7% in Quarter 4 2013.

Current account with EU and non-EU countries (Table C)

Figure 3: EU/non-EU current account balance (Seasonally adjusted)

Figure 3: EU/non-EU current account balance (Seasonally adjusted)
Source: Office for National Statistics

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A deficit of £20.8 billion was recorded with the EU in Quarter 1 2014, compared with a deficit of £23.7 billion in Quarter 4 2013. This decrease was due to a narrowing in the deficits on total trade and income, partially offset by a widening in the deficit on current transfers. The current account with non-EU countries showed a surplus of £2.3 billion in Quarter 1 2014, compared with a surplus of £0.2 billion in Quarter 4 2013. The increase was mainly due to a narrowing of the deficits on current transfers and income, partially offset by a widening in the trade in goods deficit.

Trade in goods (Table E) and services (Table F)

Figure 4: Trade in goods and services balances (Seasonally adjusted)

Figure 4: Trade in goods and services balances (Seasonally adjusted)

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Trade in goods covers transactions in general merchandise, goods for processing, repairs on goods, goods procured in ports by carriers, and non-monetary gold. General merchandise (with some exceptions) refers to moveable goods for which real or imputed changes of ownership occur between UK residents and the rest of the world.

The trade in goods deficit in Quarter 1 2014 was £26.5 billion, compared with £26.8 billion in Quarter 4 2013. Exports fell by £2.8 billion while imports fell by £3.1 billion.

The deficits on oil and food, beverages and tobacco narrowed by £0.4 billion to £2.3 billion and £4.5 billion respectively between Quarter 4 2013 and Quarter 1 2014. This was partially offset by the deficit on finished manufactured goods widening by £0.7 billion from £13.7 billion in Quarter 4 2013 to £14.3 billion in Quarter 1 2014.

Trade in services covers the provision of services by UK residents to non-residents and vice versa. It also covers transactions in goods which are not freighted out of the country in which transactions take place, for example purchases for local use by foreign forces in the UK or by UK forces abroad and purchases by tourists. Transactions in goods which are freighted into/out of the UK are included under trade in goods.

The trade in services surplus was £21.0 billion in Quarter 1 2014, an increase of £1.3 billion from Quarter 4 2013. Exports were £0.7 billion higher than Quarter 4 2013 at £51.6 billion, with increases in most components, partially offset by decreases in transportation services and royalties and license fees. Imports decreased by £0.6 billion to £30.6 billion, mainly due to decreases in travel services, financial services and transportation services, partially offset by an increase in other business services and computer and information services.

Income (Table G)

Figure 5: Income account balances (Seasonally adjusted)

Figure 5: Income account balances (Seasonally adjusted)

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The investment income account covers earnings (for example, profits, dividends and interest payments and receipts) arising from foreign investment in financial assets and liabilities. Credits are the earnings of UK residents from their investments abroad and other foreign assets. Debits are the earnings of foreign residents from their investments in the UK and other UK liabilities. The flow of investment in the financial account is recorded separately from earnings, although reinvested earnings of companies with foreign affiliates are a component of both. The total value of UK assets and liabilities held at any time is also recorded separately under the international investment position.

The income account deficit decreased from £9.5 billion in Quarter 4 2013 to £7.4 billion in Quarter 1 2014. In terms of functional categories, the decrease was mainly due to a £1.3 billion increase in the direct investment surplus from £4.0 billion in Quarter 4 2013 to £5.4 billion in Quarter 1 2014. Additionally, there was a decrease of £0.9 billion in the portfolio investment deficit.

The deficit on compensation of employees fell in Quarter 1 2014 to £79 million.

The surplus on direct investment income increased from £4.0 billion in Quarter 4 2013 to £5.4 billion in Quarter 1 2014. The increase was due to receipts rising more than payments. Receipts were £19.4 billion in Quarter 1 2014, £5.3 billion higher than in Quarter 4 2013. The increase was mainly due to UK monetary financial institutions switching from losses of £2.3 billion in Quarter 4 2013 to profits of £1.6 billion in Quarter 1 2014. Additionally, UK insurance companies recorded an increase in profits of £0.7 billion, to £1.2 billion in Quarter 1 2014. Payments rose by £4.0 billion in Quarter 1 2014 to £14.0 billion. The increase was mainly due to foreign owned UK monetary financial institutions switching from losses of £1.0 billion in Quarter 4 2013, to profits of £1.5 billion in Quarter 1 2014. Additionally, foreign owned UK private non-financial corporations recorded an increase in profits of £0.9 billion, to £10.0 billion in Quarter 1 2014.

Portfolio investment income recorded a deficit of £9.6 billion in Quarter 1 2014, following a deficit of £10.5 billion in Quarter 4 2013. This decrease was due to a narrowing in the deficit of equity securities, partially offset by a widening in the debt securities deficit. UK earnings on portfolio investment abroad decreased by £0.4 billion due to decreased earnings on debt securities, partially offset by an increase in the earnings of equity securities. Foreign earnings on portfolio investment in the UK decreased by £1.3 billion, due to lower earnings on UK equity securities, partially offset by higher earnings on UK debt securities.

The deficit on earnings from other investment increased by £0.1 billion to £3.2 billion in Quarter 1 2014. Earnings from other investment abroad fell by £0.1 billion to £6.0 billion, while earnings on other investment in the UK showed little change at £9.2 billion.

Current transfers (Table H)

Figure 6: Current transfers balance (Seasonally adjusted)

Figure 6: Current transfers balance (Seasonally adjusted)

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Transfers represent the provision (or receipt) of an economic value by one party without directly receiving (or providing) a counterpart item of economic value, in plain terms a transaction representing ‘something for nothing’ or without a quid pro quo. Transfers can be in the form of money or of goods or services provided without the expectation of payment. General government transfers include receipts, contributions and subscriptions from or to European Union (EU) institutions and other international bodies, bilateral aid and military grants.

The deficit on current transfers narrowed by £1.3 billion to £5.6 billion in Quarter 1 2014. It should be noted that the quarterly path of net contributions to EU institutions can be erratic.

Capital account (Table I)

The capital account comprises two components: capital transfers and the acquisition/disposal of non-produced, non-financial assets.

Capital transfers are those involving transfers of ownership of fixed assets, transfers of funds associated with the acquisition or disposal of fixed assets, and cancellation of liabilities by creditors without any counterparts being received in return. As with current transfers, they can be subdivided into general government transfers and other sectors transfers. The main sources of information are government departments (Department for International Development and HM Treasury) and the Bank of England. Compensation payments from the EU are also included here, for example, payments related to the destruction of animals to combat BSE and foot and mouth disease.

The sale/purchase of non-produced, non-financial assets covers intangibles such as patents, copyrights, franchises, leases and other transferable contracts, and goodwill; and transactions involving tangible assets that may be used or needed for the production of goods and services but have not themselves been produced, such as land and sub-soil assets. The use of such assets is recorded under trade in services as royalties and license fees; only the outright purchase or sale of such assets is recorded in the capital account.

The capital account recorded a surplus of £1.1 billion in Quarter 1 2014, a decrease of £0.4 billion from Quarter 4 2013.

Financial account (Table J)

Figure 7: Financial account balances (Not seasonally adjusted)

Figure 7: Financial account balances (Not seasonally adjusted)

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The financial account covers transactions which result in a change of ownership of financial assets and liabilities between UK residents and non-residents, for example, the acquisitions and disposals of foreign shares by UK residents.

The financial account showed a net inflow (that is, inward investment) of £8.9 billion in Quarter 1 2014, compared with a net inflow of £29.1 billion in Quarter 4 2013. UK investment abroad increased by £9.9 billion in Quarter 1 2014, from net investment (outflow) of £6.1 billion in Quarter 4 2013 to net investment (outflow) of £16.0 billion in Quarter 1 2014. Investment in the UK decreased by £10.3 billion in Quarter 1 2014 from net investment of £35.2 billion in Quarter 4 2013 to net investment of £24.9 billion in Quarter 1 2014.

Direct investment recorded a net inflow (that is, inward investment) of £71.0 billion in Quarter 1 2014, a switch from a net outflow of £9.9 billion in Quarter 4 2013. For further information on the impact of foreign direct investment acquisitions and disposals, please see background notes, section 3, part 2 interpreting the data.

Figure 8: Financial account: Direct investment (Not seasonally adjusted)

Figure 8: Financial account: Direct investment (Not seasonally adjusted)

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Direct investment abroad switched in Quarter 1 2014 to disinvestment of £57.5 billion from investment of £15.9 billion in Quarter 4 2013. The switch was mainly due to an increase in net disinvestment of equity capital from £3.5 billion in Quarter 4 2013 to net disinvestment of £70.4 billion in Quarter 1 2014, and a switch in other capital transactions from net investment of £32.7 billion in Quarter 4 2013 to net disinvestment of £0.2 billion in Quarter 1 2014. Partially offsetting these was a switch to net investment in reinvested earnings from net disinvestment of £13.3 billion in Quarter 4 2013 to net investment of £13.1 billion in Quarter 1 2014. On a sector basis, the switch to net disinvestment was mainly due to private non-financial corporations switching from net investment of £21.4 billion in Quarter 4 2013 to net disinvestment of £61.7 billion in Quarter 1 2014. This was partially offset by monetary financial institutions switching from net disinvestment of £4.0 billion to net investment of £0.7 billion over the same period. Additionally, insurance companies switched from net disinvestment of £2.9 billion in Quarter 4 2013 to net investment of £1.0 billion in Quarter 1 2014.

Direct investment in the UK increased by £7.4 billion in Quarter 1 2014 to £13.5 billion. The rise was mainly due to a switch to net investment of reinvested earnings of £8.3 billion in Quarter 1 2014 from net disinvestment of £0.1 billion in Quarter 4 2013 and a switch to net investment in other capital transactions of £1.1 billion in Quarter 1 2014 from net disinvestment of £3.3 billion in Quarter 4 2013. Partially offsetting these was lower net investment in equity capital from £9.4 billion in Quarter 4 2013 to £4.1 billion in Quarter 1 2014. On a sector basis, the increase in net investment was due to investment in UK private non-financial corporations switching from net disinvestment of £4.7 billion in Quarter 4 2013 to net investment of £10.3 billion in Quarter 1 2014. Partially offsetting this were decreased net investment in UK monetary financial institutions and UK other financial intermediaries from £8.1 billion to £1.3 billion and £2.7 billion to £1.5 billion respectively in Quarter 1 2014.

Portfolio investment recorded a net inflow of £23.1 billion in Quarter 1 2014, an increase from a net inflow of £17.2 billion in Quarter 4 2013. The increase was mainly due to debt securities increasing from a net inflow of £21.9 billion in Quarter 4 2013 to a net inflow of £28.4 billion in Quarter 1 2014. Partially offsetting this was an increase in the net outflow of equity securities from £4.7 billion in Quarter 4 2013 to a net outflow of £5.3 billion in Quarter 1 2014.

Figure 9: Financial account: Portfolio investment (Not seasonally adjusted)

Figure 9: Financial account: Portfolio investment (Not seasonally adjusted)

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Portfolio investment abroad showed net disinvestment of £16.4 billion in Quarter 1 2014, following a net investment of £18.1 billion in Quarter 4 2013. The switch was due to both equity securities and debt securities switching from net investment to net disinvestment. Equity securities switched from net investment of £4.6 billion in Quarter 4 2013 to net disinvestment of £13.3 billion in Quarter 1 2014, while debt securities switched from net investment of £13.6 billion to net disinvestment of £3.1 billion over the same period. On a sector basis, monetary financial institutions switched from net investment of £6.5 billion in Quarter 4 2013 to net disinvestment of £4.5 billion in Quarter 1 2014 and, other financial intermediaries switched from net investment of £11.2 billion in Quarter 4 2013 to net disinvestment of £10.9 billion in Quarter 1 2014.

Portfolio investment in the UK showed net investment of £6.7 billion in Quarter 1 2014, a decrease from net investment of £35.4 billion in Quarter 4 2013. This was due to increased net disinvestment in equity securities from £0.2 billion in Quarter 4 2013 to £18.6 billion in Quarter 1 2014 and, net investment in debt securities decreasing from £35.5 billion in Quarter 4 2013 to £25.3 billion in Quarter 1 2014.

Financial derivatives showed net settlement receipts of £14.0 billion in Quarter 1 2014 following net settlement receipts of £15.3 billion in Quarter 4 2013.

Other investment in Quarter 1 2014 recorded net outflows of £68.5 billion compared with net inflows of £37.6 billion in Quarter 4 2013.

Figure 10: Financial account: Other investment (Not seasonally adjusted)

Figure 10: Financial account: Other investment (Not seasonally adjusted)

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Other investment abroad recorded net investment of £73.2 billion in Quarter 1 2014, following net disinvestment of £43.7 billion in Quarter 4 2013. The switch was mainly due to UK residents switching from net withdrawal of overseas deposits of £50.4 billion in Quarter 4 2013 to net deposits of £57.8 billion in Quarter 1 2014. This was mainly due to UK monetary financial institutions switching from net withdrawal of deposits of £56.5 billion in Quarter 4 2013 to net deposits of £38.1 billion in Quarter 1 2014.

Other investment in the UK showed net investment of £4.7 billion in Quarter 1 2014, following net disinvestment of £6.2 billion in Quarter 4 2013. The switch was mainly due to non-resident net withdrawal of deposits with UK monetary financial institutions decreasing from £36.7 billion in Quarter 4 2013 to £12.2 billion in Quarter 1 2014. Partially offsetting this was a decrease in net advances of short term loans to UK monetary financial institutions from £30.9 billion in Quarter 4 2013 to net advances of £17.2 billion in Quarter 1 2014.

Reserve assets showed net investment of £2.7 billion in Quarter 1 2014 compared with net investment of £0.5 billion in Quarter 4 2013.

International investment position (Table K)

Figure 11: Net international investment position (Not seasonally adjusted)

Figure 11: Net international investment position (Not seasonally adjusted)

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The international investment position brings together the available estimates of the levels of identified UK external assets (foreign assets owned by UK residents) and identified UK external liabilities (UK assets owned by foreign residents) at the end of each calendar period.

The international investment position showed net external liabilities (that is, liabilities exceed assets) of £81.8 billion at the end of Quarter 1 2014 compared with net external liabilities of £31.9 billion at the end of Quarter 4 2013. UK external assets abroad decreased by £226.9 billion from the end of Quarter 4 2013 to a level of £9,335.1 billion at the end of Quarter 1 2014. The decrease in the stock of UK external assets in Quarter 1 2014 was mainly due to a decrease in the stock of financial derivatives, direct investment abroad and portfolio investment abroad. UK external liabilities decreased by £176.9 billion in Quarter 1 2014 to a level of £9,416.9 billion. The decrease in UK external liabilities was mainly due to a decrease in the stock of financial derivatives.

Revisions since the last Balance of Payments Statistical Bulletin (Table R1, R2 and R3)

Data in this release have been revised from Quarter 1 2013. Revisions tables are included in the balance of payments reference tables (Tables R1, R2 and R3).

Trade in goods – Revisions from Quarter 1 2013 reflect revised data from HM Revenue & Customs and other data suppliers, revised estimates of trading associated with VAT Missing Trader Intra-Community (MTIC) fraud, revised survey data on trade prices and a reassessment of seasonal factors.

Trade in services – Revisions from Quarter 1 2013 are due to updated survey information from the ONS International Trade in Services survey, with revisions also from the Bank of England and other survey and administrative sources and a reassessment of seasonal factors.

Current transfers – Revisions to current transfers are due to revised source data for transfers involving the UK government, the use of the latest data for various ONS surveys and a reassessment of seasonal factors.

Capital account – Revisions to the capital account are attributable to revised source data from HM Treasury and the ONS International Trade in Services survey.

Investment income, financial account and international investment position – Revisions from Quarter 1 2013 reflect new and revised survey data, a reassessment of coverage adjustments to data from the Bank for International Settlements and a reassessment of seasonal factors. Revisions also reflect new estimates from the Bank for International Settlements.

Background notes

  1. What’s new?

    This quarter

    In accordance with the National Accounts revision policy, the current revision period is open from Q1 2013.

    The Q1 2014 Balance of Payments dataset contains revised Trade in Services estimates compared with those published in the UK Trade bulletin on 6 June 2014. The minor revisions are due to late data returns and the balancing process applied during the compilation of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) estimates. The Trade in Goods estimates are unchanged.

    Future revision period

    The next Balance of Payments release, for Q2 2014, will have the revision period open from Q1 1997. The data will be presented on the Balance of Payments Manual sixth edition (BPM6) basis and be consistent with the United Kingdom Balance of Payments Pink Book published on 31 October 2014.

    An article detailing the methodological changes to the Balance of Payments as a result of implementing BPM6 will be published on 9 July 2014. Complementing the article will be a further article outlining the changes in the presentation of the Balance of Payments.

  2. Code of Practice for Official Statistics

    National Statistics are produced to high professional standards set out in the Code of Practice for Official Statistics. They undergo regular quality assurance reviews to ensure that they meet customer needs. They are produced free from any political interference. © Crown Copyright 2014.

  3. Understanding the data

    1. Short guide to Balance of Payments

    A brief introduction to the United Kingdom balance of payments (64.6 Kb Pdf) provides an overview of the concepts and coverage of the UK Balance of Payments.

    2. Interpreting the data

    Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) acquisitions and disposals impact on numerous parts of the Financial Account and International Investment Position (IIP). A corporate deal between a UK company and a non-UK company would feature in the equity capital component of the Financial Account and IIP. Other categories of the accounts would also be impacted depending on how any such deal was financed. In some cases equity securities would form the payment and impact on Portfolio Investment. In other cases cash would be used and impact on Other Investment, while some deals would use a combination of equity and cash. It should be noted that as elements of a corporate deal filter through the accounts the impacts would be smaller and potentially dwarfed by other transactions.

    ONS and the Bank of England are reviewing the measurement of banks’ earnings on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). The current estimates of banks’ earnings on FDI are shown on an all inclusive basis, including holding gains and losses, but FDI earnings can also be presented on a current operating performance basis, which excludes holding gains and losses. Current international standards, as defined in the fifth edition of the Balance of Payments Manual, allow presentation on either basis. The UK intends to move to a current operating performance measure when it implements the sixth edition of the Balance of Payments Manual in 2014.

    Import figures for Trade in Goods include adjustments to allow for the impact of trade associated with VAT MTIC fraud. The adjustments were introduced for the first time in the UK Trade May 2003 First Release published on 9 July 2003. The adjustments are added to the EU import estimates derived from Intrastat returns.

    An article explaining MTIC fraud and the impact on the trade figures (131 Kb Pdf) was published on 9 July 2003. A report on further research into MTIC fraud (137.3 Kb Pdf) was published on 17 February 2005, which summarises the work carried out to review the estimates of the impact on the trade figures.

    Changes to the pattern of trading associated with MTIC fraud can make it difficult to analyse trade by commodity group and by country, as changes in the impact of activity associated with this fraud affect both imports and exports. Originally, most carousel chains only involved EU member states. From 2004 in particular, some carousel chains included non-EU countries, for example Dubai and Switzerland. However, the MTIC trade adjustments are added to the EU import estimates derived from Intrastat returns as it is this part of the chain that is not generally recorded. In particular, adjustments affect trade in capital goods and intermediate goods - these categories include mobile phones and computer components, which are still the most widely affected goods.

    Figures for total exports and imports less adjustments for trade associated with VAT MTIC fraud are given in the monthly UK Trade Statistical Bulletin.

    From Quarter 1 2010, ONS have included financial derivatives business of UK securities dealers in both the UK’s financial account (flows) and the international investment position (stocks). The inclusion of this data improves the sector coverage of financial derivatives which previously included only data on financial derivatives business of UK banks.

    An article detailing the improvements to the coverage of derivatives within the United Kingdom Economic Accounts (51.5 Kb Pdf) was published on 25 October 2011.

    Figures for the most recent periods are provisional and subject to revision in light of: (a) late and corrected responses to surveys; (b) revisions to seasonal adjustment factors which are re-estimated annually; and (c) annual benchmarking of surveys.

    ONS delivered Q1 2014 flash estimates of the current account at the end of May 2014 to Eurostat solely for them to estimate aggregate euro-indicators. The same approach is followed for each quarterly delivery.

    In order to comply with Regulation (EC) No 184/2005, ONS supply Eurostat and the European Central Bank with current account data for trade in services and investment income unadjusted for FISIM e.g. FISIM will not be included in trade in services but will remain in investment income. Additionally, a detailed geographical and product breakdown of trade in services is supplied to Eurostat to comply with the same regulation.

    3. Definition and explanation

    A glossary of terms used in the UK balance of payments is available on the ONS website.

    4. Special events

    An article outlining the ONS policy on special events can be found on the ONS website.

    5. Use of the data

    Balance of payments estimates are used by the Bank of England and the Treasury to inform decisions on monetary and fiscal policy. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills also uses balance of payments estimates to identify international trade partners. International users include the Statistical Office for the European Union (Eurostat) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF); Eurostat uses UK figures to compile aggregate EU accounts and the IMF collate data as a means of ensuring financial stability and sustainability.

    Examples of how government departments and others use balance of payments estimates are:

    • in providing ministerial briefing on the headline Balance of Payments and Trade statistics pre-release,

    • feeding data into their own regular analyses of the macro economy, and also into more ad-hoc and in-depth analyses. For example, importance of trade with particular countries or groups of countries, importance of trade in different commodities/services, identifying comparative advantage, changes in import and export prices, economic contribution from trade and income, and looking at inward and outward investment. These analyses/briefings are aimed to inform ministers/decision makers of the current/historical situation, and provide evidence for the policy debate,

    • balance of payments data are also of interest to a wider range of user groups including the media, researchers and other regional, national and international policy makers. Some users focus primarily on the developments in the current account and their financing, including the sustainability of the current account imbalances in the longer term and the need for policy adjustments. Others focus on an analytic presentation, classifying its standard components of balance of payments and their relationship to other components (for example, trade and direct investment, and foreign direct investment and productivity). The balance of payments allows a sector breakdown of the financial account and their relationship to domestic sources of finance.

    Further details on use of the data can be found in the results of the balance of payments user engagement survey (81.8 Kb Pdf) .

  4. Methods

    More detailed methodological notes for the UK balance of payments (269.1 Kb Pdf) are available on the ONS website.

    1. Composition of the data

    Table C provides an EU/non-EU breakdown of the current account. From 1 September 2013 data in this release are presented on an EU28 basis, reflecting the expansion of EU membership to include Croatia.

    International investment position statistics are based on recording direct investments at book values and other assets and liabilities at estimated market values. These estimates are likely in some respects to be deficient in scope and coverage. Quarterly estimates tend to be less reliable because they are largely based on cumulated flows and not reported levels.

    In theory, every credit entry should be matched by a corresponding debit so that total current, capital and financial account credits should be equal to, and therefore offset by, total debits. In practice there is a discrepancy termed net errors and omissions. The net errors and omissions are shown on Table A.

    2. Seasonal adjustment

    Current and capital accounts are seasonally adjusted. Financial account and international investment position data are not seasonally adjusted.

    When compiling the geographic breakdown of income, current transfers and trade in services, the EU countries are seasonally adjusted. The non-EU seasonally adjusted figure is calculated by subtracting the seasonally adjusted EU total from the seasonally adjusted world total. Both EU and non-EU data are seasonally adjusted for trade in goods; these are aggregated to form the world total. 

  5. Quality

    1. Basic quality information

    Common pitfalls in interpreting series: Expectations of accuracy and reliability in early estimates are often too high. Revisions are an inevitable consequence of the trade off between timeliness and accuracy. Early estimates are based on incomplete data.

    Very few statistical revisions arise as a result of ‘errors’ in the popular sense of the word. All estimates, by definition, are subject to statistical ‘error’; but in this context the word refers to the uncertainty inherent in any process or calculation that uses sampling, estimation or modelling. Most revisions reflect either the adoption of new statistical techniques, or the incorporation of new information which allows the statistical error of previous estimates to be reduced. Only rarely are there avoidable ‘errors’ such as human or system failures, and such mistakes are made quite clear when they do occur.

    2. Summary Quality Report

    The balance of payments Statistical Bulletin Summary Quality Report (117.6 Kb Pdf) is available on the ONS website.

    3. National Accounts revisions policy

    The data in this statistical bulletin are subject to revisions following the ONS National Accounts Revisions policy

    Estimates for the most recent quarters are provisional and, as usual, are subject to revision in light of updated source information. ONS provides analysis of past revisions in the Balance of Payments and other Statistical Bulletins which present time series.

    4. Revision triangles

    Revisions to data provide one indication of the reliability of key indicators. The table shows summary information on the size and direction of the revisions which have been made to the data covering a five year period. A statistical test has been applied to the average revision to find out if it is statistically significantly different from zero. An asterisk (*) shows that the test is significant.

    Table 1 covers estimates first published in the balance of payments from September 2006 (2006Q2) to June 2011 (2011Q1).

    Table 1: Balance of Payments revisions analysis

    £ million
    Current account (seasonally adjusted)
    Revisions between first publication and  estimates three years later
    Value in latest period Average over the last five years Average over the last five years without regard to sign (average absolute revisions)
    Credits (HBON) 163,929 4,320* 4,919*
    Debits (HBOO) 182,424 2,592 3,983
    Net (HBOP) -18,495 1,728 2,580

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    Spreadsheets giving revisions analysis (real time databases) of estimates from 1996 to date and the calculations behind the averages in the table are available (704.3 Kb ZIP) on the ONS website.

    An article analysing balance of payments current account revisions (340.2 Kb Pdf) was published in the May 2007 edition of Economic & Labour Market Review.

  6. Publication policy

    Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available from the Media Relations Office. Also available is a list of the organisations given pre-publication access to the contents of this bulletin.

  7. Accessing data

    The complete run of data in the tables of this statistical bulletin is available to view and download in electronic format through ONS Time Series Data. Users can download the complete bulletin in a choice of zipped formats, or view and then download their own sections of individual series. The Time Series Data can be accessed on the ONS website.

    Further balance of payments data is available online in the quarterly ONS publication United Kingdom Economic Accounts (UKEA).

  8. Following ONS

    Follow ONS on Twitter and receive up to date information about our statistical releases.

    Like us on Facebook to receive our updates in your newsfeed and to post comments on our page.

    View the latest podcasts on YouTube.

    Next Publication Date:

    30 September 2014

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    Telephone: 0845 601 3034
    Email: info@ons.gsi.gov.uk
    Website: www.ons.gov.uk

  9. Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available by visiting www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/assessment/code-of-practice/index.html or from the Media Relations Office email: media.relations@ons.gsi.gov.uk

    The United Kingdom Statistics Authority has designated these statistics as National Statistics, in accordance with the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 and signifying compliance with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics.

    Designation can be broadly interpreted to mean that the statistics:

    • meet identified user needs;
    • are well explained and readily accessible;
    • are produced according to sound methods; and
    • are managed impartially and objectively in the public interest.

    Once statistics have been designated as National Statistics it is a statutory requirement that the Code of Practice shall continue to be observed.

Statistical contacts

Name Phone Department Email
Craig Taylor +44 (0)1633 456333 ONS bop@ons.gsi.gov.uk
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