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 namely 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 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 (i.e. in surplus) or net borrower (i.e. in deficit). The UK has run a combined current and capital account deficit in every year since 1997 and every quarter since the fourth quarter of 2009.
In the latest full year, 2011, the UK was a net borrower of £17.2 billion, down from £33.6 billion in 2010. This was as a result of an increased trade in services surplus, the largest on record, combined with an increased income surplus.
Both exports and imports of services were at a record high in 2011, but as exports grew by more than imports, this led to an increase in the trade in services surplus. This was mainly due to the increase in exports of financial and other business services.
The increase in the income surplus in 2011 was due to an increase in the direct investment income surplus, as income receipts increased by more than income payments. Receipts increased primarily due to the foreign subsidiaries of UK banks returning to profits after recording losses in 2010.
In 2011, the current account deficit equated to 1.3% of GDP at current market prices, compared with 2.5% in 2010. The deficit in trade in goods and services was equivalent to 1.6% of GDP in 2011 compared with 2.1% in 2010, and the income surplus equated to 1.7% of GDP in 2011 compared with 1.0% in 2010.
In the latest quarter, the third quarter of 2012, the UK was a net borrower of £11.9 billion, down from £16.5 billion in the previous quarter. This was due to a decrease of £2.3 billion in the deficit in trade in goods, and the income balance moving from a deficit of £1.0 billion to a surplus of £1.2 billion.
The moving of the income balance from deficit to surplus was due to a decrease in foreign earnings on direct, portfolio and other investment in the UK, and an increase in UK earnings on direct investment abroad, partially offset by a decrease in UK earnings on portfolio investment abroad. This meant that the direct investment income surplus increased by £3.8 billion, and the portfolio investment deficit increased by £1.4 billion.
The narrowing in the trade in goods deficit was due to a fall of £0.8 billion in imports of goods and an increase of £1.5 billion in exports, primarily due to exports of semi-manufactured goods, which rose by £1.3 billion to £21.5 billion in the third quarter 2012. Imports of semi-manufactured goods fell by £0.9 billion, which reduced the semi-manufactured goods deficit by £2.2 billion to £3.0 billion in the latest quarter. This was partially offset by a widening of £0.6 billion in the deficit in oil to £3.6 billion.
In 2012 quarter three, the current account deficit equated to 3.3% of GDP at current market prices, compared with 4.6% in quarter two. The deficit in trade in goods and services was equivalent to 2.1% of GDP in 2012 quarter three compared with 2.9% in the previous quarter. The income surplus equated to 0.3% of GDP in quarter three, whereas the income deficit in quarter two was equivalent to 0.3% of GDP.
The current account deficit equated to 3.3% of GDP at current market prices in the third quarter of 2012, compared with 4.6% in the previous quarter. The deficit on trade in goods and services was equivalent to 2.1% of GDP in the latest quarter, compared with 2.9% in the second quarter of 2012. The surplus on income equated to 0.3% of GDP in the latest quarter, compared with a deficit equivalent to 0.3% in the previous quarter.
A deficit of £18.4 billion was recorded with the EU in the third quarter of 2012, compared with a deficit of £16.4 billion in the previous quarter. This increase was due to higher deficits on income and total trade, which were partially offset by a fall in the deficit on current transfers.
The current account with non-EU countries showed a surplus of £5.6 billion in the third quarter of 2012, compared with a deficit of £1.1 billion in the previous quarter. This switch was due to a higher surplus on income and lower deficit on trade in goods, partially offset by a rise in the deficit on current transfers.
World totals for trade in services incorporate latest benchmark estimates from the ONS International Trade in Services survey from 2011 onwards, however it has not been possible to revise the geographic breakdown of services data for EU and Non-EU (Table C).
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 the third quarter of 2012 was £25.6 billion, compared with £27.9 billion in the previous quarter. Exports rose by £1.5 billion while imports fell by £0.8 billion.
The deficit in semi-manufactured goods narrowed by £2.2 billion to a deficit of £3.0 billion. This was partially offset by the deficit in oil which widened by £0.6 billion to £3.6 billion.
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 £17.3 billion in the third quarter of 2012, an increase of £0.4 billion from the previous quarter. Exports overall remained flat at £46.9 billion, with increases in other business services and royalties & license fees offset by decreases in financial services and personal, cultural & recreational services. Imports decreased by £0.4 billion to £29.6 billion, due to a decrease in other business services and government services, partially offset by increase in travel and computer & information services.
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 the 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 switched from £1.0 billion deficit in the second quarter to £1.2 billion surplus in the third quarter of 2012. The change was due to income payments (debits) falling more than income receipts (credits). In terms of functional categories, the switch to surplus was due to a £3.8 billion increase in the direct investment surplus, which was partially offset by a £1.4 billion increase to the portfolio investment deficit.
The deficit on compensation of employees rose in the third quarter of 2012 to £56 million.
The surplus on direct investment income was £11.8 billion in the third quarter of 2012, up from £8.0 billion in the previous quarter. The increased surplus was due to receipts increasing and payments falling. Receipts were £23.4 billion in the latest period, £2.6 billion higher than in the second quarter of 2012. This rise was mainly due to increased earnings abroad by UK private non-financial corporations. Payments fell by £1.3 billion in the latest quarter to £11.6 billion. The decrease was mainly due to lower profits by foreign-owned UK private non-financial corporations.
Portfolio investment income recorded a deficit of £6.3 billion in the third quarter of 2012, following a deficit of £4.9 billion in the previous quarter. This increase was due to increases in both debt and equity securities deficits. UK earnings on portfolio investment abroad decreased by £2.2 billion, due to decreased earnings on both debt and equity securities. Foreign earnings on portfolio investment in the UK decreased by £0.8 billion, due to lower earnings on UK debt and equity securities.
The deficit on earnings from other investment increased by £0.2 billion to £4.4 billion in the latest quarter. Earnings from other investment abroad fell by £0.9 billion to £7.3 billion while earnings on other investment in the UK decreased by £0.7 billion to £11.7 billion.
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 increased by £0.3 billion to £5.7 billion in the third quarter of 2012. It should be noted that the quarterly path of net contributions to EU institutions can be erratic.
The capital account comprises of 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 related to the destruction of animals to combat BSE and foot and mouth disease are also included here.
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 £1.0 billion in the third quarter of 2012, unchanged from the previous quarter.
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 (i.e. inward investment) of £5.8 billion in the third quarter of 2012, compared with a net inflow of £18.5 billion in the previous quarter. UK investment abroad showed a switch from £127.0 billion disinvestment (inflow) to investment of £9.8 billion in the latest quarter. Investment in the UK switched from disinvestment (outflow) of £108.5 billion in the second quarter to investment of £15.5 billion in the latest quarter.
Direct investment recorded a net outflow (i.e. outward investment) of £15.0 billion in the third quarter of 2012, an increase from £0.5 billion in the previous quarter.
Direct investment abroad increased by £11.4 billion in the latest quarter to £22.1 billion. This was due mainly to reinvested earnings increasing £5.3 billion to £13.4 billion and other capital transactions increasing £4.2 billion to £5.0 billion. On a sector basis, the rise in investment was largely due to a switch to investment of £1.5 billion by UK monetary financial institutions following disinvestment of £5.9 billion the previous quarter. In addition, other financial intermediaries increased net investment from £0.6 billion to £2.7 billion in the third quarter of 2012.
Direct investment in the UK decreased by £3.1 billion in the third quarter of 2012 to £7.1 billion. The fall was due to investment in equity capital decreasing £6.2 billion to £3.9 billion. Offsetting this were increases in investment in reinvested earnings and other capital transactions. On a sector basis, the decrease in net investment was due to a fall in investment in UK private non-financial corporations of £4.1 billion to net investment of £5.2 billion in the latest quarter. Offsetting this were other financial intermediaries which switched from disinvestment of £0.3 billion in the second quarter of 2012 to net investment of £0.8 billion in the latest quarter.
Portfolio investment recorded a net outflow of £124.2 billion in the third quarter of 2012, a switch from a net inflow of £21.1 billion in the previous quarter. Both debt securities and equity securities showed a net outflow in the latest quarter of £87.8 billion and £36.4 billion respectively.
Portfolio investment abroad switched from £31.9 billion net disinvestment in the previous quarter to £60.9 billion net investment in the third quarter of 2012. The change was due to UK monetary financial institutions switching from net disinvestment of £34.9 billion to net investment of £34.3 billion, combined with an increase in net investment by other financial intermediaries from £6.0 billion in the previous quarter to £24.4 billion in the third quarter of 2012.
Portfolio investment in the UK showed net disinvestment of £63.2 billion in the third quarter of 2012, following net disinvestment of £10.8 billion in the previous quarter. This was mainly due to net disinvestment in UK debt securities of £54.2 billion in the third quarter of 2012 following net disinvestment of £8.7 billion in the previous quarter.
Financial derivatives showed net settlement receipts of £9.2 billion in the third quarter of 2012 following net settlement payments of £17.8 billion in the previous quarter.
Other investment in the latest quarter recorded net inflows of £156.7 billion compared with net outflows of £17.2 billion in the previous quarter.
Other investment abroad recorded net disinvestment of £85.0 billion in the third quarter of 2012, following net disinvestment of £90.6 billion in the previous quarter. The fall in net disinvestment was mainly due to UK residents reducing net withdrawal abroad from £97.4 billion to £54.7 billion net withdrawal of deposits from abroad in the latest quarter. This was offset by non-residents short term loans, switching to net repayment of £31.3 billion, following net advances of £5.9 billion in the previous quarter.
Other investment in the UK showed net investment of £71.7 billion in the third quarter of 2012 a switch from net disinvestment of £107.8 billion in the previous quarter. This was due to non-resident deposits with UK monetary financial institutions switching from net withdrawal of £124.0 billion to net deposits of £7.9 billion in the latest quarter, together with net borrowing by UK residents of short term loans increasing from £15.0 billion to £64.2 billion in the latest quarter.
Reserve assets showed net investment of £2.5 billion in the third quarter of 2012 compared with net investment of £2.7 billion in the previous quarter.
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 (i.e. liabilities exceed assets) of £317.4 billion at the end of the third quarter of 2012 compared with net external liabilities of £344.1 billion at the end of the previous quarter. UK assets abroad decreased by £183.5 billion from the end of the second quarter of 2012 to a level of £10,453.4 billion at the end of the third quarter of 2012.
The decrease in the stock of UK assets in the latest quarter was mainly due to a decrease in the stock of financial derivative assets and other investment abroad. UK liabilities decreased by £210.2 billion in the third quarter of 2012 to a level of £10,770.9 billion. The decrease in UK liabilities was primarily due to a decrease in the stock of financial derivatives liabilities.
Data in this release have been revised from the first quarter of 2011. Revisions tables are included in the balance of payments reference tables (Tables R1, R2 and R3).
Trade in goods – Revisions from the first quarter of 2011 reflect revised data from HM Revenue & Customs and other data suppliers, revised estimates of trading associated with VAT MTIC fraud, later survey data on trade prices and a re-assessment of seasonal factors.
Trade in services – Revisions from first quarter of 2011 are due to annual benchmarking of ONS International Trade in Services survey. With revisions to Bank of England and other survey and administrative sources.
Current transfers – Revisions from the first quarter of 2011 are due to revised source data for transfers involving the UK government and the use of the latest data for various ONS surveys.
Capital account – Revisions to the capital account from the first quarter of 2011 are attributable to revised source data from the International Trade in Services survey.
Investment income, financial account and international investment position – Revisions from the first quarter of 2011 reflect new and revised survey data (eg, benchmarking to the latest Foreign Direct Investment data), a reassessment of coverage adjustments to data from the Bank for International Settlements and a reassessment of seasonal factors. Revisions to the first quarter of 2012 also reflect new estimates from the Bank for International Settlements.
In accordance with the National Accounts revision policy, the current revisions period is open from Q1 2011.
Future revision period
The next balance of payments release, for Q4 2012, will have the revision period open from Q1 2012.
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 2012.
Understanding the data
1. Short guide to Balance of Payments
A brief introduction to the United Kingdom balance of payments (92.1 Kb Pdf) provides an overview of the concepts and coverage of the UK Balance of Payments.
2. Interpreting the data
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 Missing Trader Intra-Community (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, e.g. 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 the first quarter 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 Q3 2012 flash estimates of the current account at the end of November 2012 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. Both deliveries are scheduled to take place on 3 January 2013.
3. Definition and explanation
A glossary (125.6 Kb Pdf) of terms used in the UK balance of payments is available on the National Statistics website.
4. Special events
An article outlining the ONS policy on special events can be found on the National Statistics 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 (eg. 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.
More detailed methodological notes for the UK balance of payments (307.4 Kb Pdf) are available on the National Statistics website.
1. Composition of the data
Table C provides an EU/non-EU breakdown of the current account. Data in this release are presented on an EU27 basis, reflecting the expansion of EU membership on 1 January 2007. A quarterly geographic breakdown of the UK's current account with the Euro area, the USA, Japan, Canada, Switzerland, Brazil, China, Hong Kong, India and Russia is also available and is published in United Kingdom Economic Accounts (UKEA).
From the first quarter 2011 edition of the UKEA, as Estonia joined the euro area on 1 January 2011, Estonia has been included within the time series for transactions with economic and monetary union (EMU) members shown in tables B6 and B6A. As a result of this change to coverage, most of the time series for transactions with EMU members now have new four character identifiers. The time series for trade in goods have retained their previous identifiers, though their coverage has also been amended to include Estonia.
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.
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 National Statistics website.
3. National Accounts revisions policy
The data in this Statistical Bulletin are subject to revisions following the ONS National Accounts Revision policy (41.6 Kb Pdf) .
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 below show 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 March 2005 (2004Q4) to December 2009 (2009Q3).
|Current account (seasonally adjusted)||£ million|
|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)|
Spreadsheets giving revisions analysis (real time databases) of estimates from 1996 to date (729.3 Kb ZIP) and the calculations behind the averages in the table are available on the National Statistics 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.
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 (42.8 Kb Pdf) to the contents of this bulletin.
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 National Statistics website.
Further balance of payments data is available online in the quarterly ONS publication United Kingdom Economic Accounts (UKEA).
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Next Publication Date:
27 March 2013
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