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The “Asset Crisis” of Emerging Economies

BEIJING – In theory, the difference between capital inflows and outflows in developing countries should be positive – they should be net capital importers, with the magnitude of the balance equivalent to the current-account deficit. Since the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis, however, many East Asian countries have been running current-account surpluses – and hence have become net capital exporters.

Even odder is the fact that while they are net capital exporters, they run financial (capital) account surpluses. In other words, these countries lend not only the money they earned through current-account surpluses, but also the money they borrowed through capital-account surpluses – mainly to the United States. As a result, East Asian countries are now sitting on a huge pile of foreign-exchange reserves in the form of US government securities.