Household saving soared in the United States and other high-income economies during the pandemic, as consumers cut back on spending while government policies supported incomes. More recently, saving behavior has diverged, with the U.S. saving rate dropping below its pre-pandemic average while saving rates elsewhere have remained above their pre-pandemic averages. As a result, U.S. consumers have been spending down the “excess savings” built up during the pandemic while the excess savings abroad remain untapped. This divergent behavior helps explain why U.S. GDP has returned to its pre-pandemic trend path even as GDP levels in other high-income economies continue to run well below trend.
The sharp slowdown in China’s property sector has reignited debate over the country’s future role as a net provider of savings to the global economy. The debate revolves around whether a sustained decline in property investment will spur a long-term increase in China’s current account surplus, given the country’s high savings rate. However, China’s rapidly aging population presents opposing forces that complicate this story. The shift of a large share of its population from working life to retirement will reduce savings supply even as a shrinking labor force will reduce investment demand. In this post, we focus on the demographic part of the story and find that this force will exert considerable downward pressure on China’s current account surplus in coming years.
Household saving has soared in the United States and other high-income countries during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite widespread declines in wages and other private income streams. This post highlights the role of fiscal policy in driving the saving boom, through stepped-up social benefits and other income support measures. Indeed, in the United States, Japan, and Canada, government assistance has pushed household income above its pre-pandemic trajectory. We argue that the larger scale of government assistance in these countries helps explain why saving in these countries has risen more strongly than in the euro area. Going forward, how freely households spend out of their newly accumulated savings will be a key factor determining the strength of economic recoveries.
The federal tax cut and the increase in federal spending at the beginning of 2018 substantially increased the government deficit, requiring a jump in the amount of new Treasury securities offerings on financial markets to fund the gap. One question is whether the government will have to rely on foreign investors to buy these securities. Data for the first half of 2018 are now available and, so far, the country has not had to increase the pace of borrowing from abroad. The current account balance, which measures how much the United States borrows from the rest of the world, has been essentially unchanged. Instead, the tax cut has boosted business saving, allowing the United States to finance the higher federal government deficit without increasing the amount borrowed from foreign investors.
Why have interest rates stayed low for so long after the financial crisis—and will they remain low for the foreseeable future?
China lends to the rest of the world because it saves much more than it needs to fund its high level of physical investment spending.
Our most recent Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit showed that although total household debt has increased somewhat since 2012, that growth has been driven almost entirely by nonhousing debt—credit cards, auto loans and student loans.
The rise in oil prices from near $30 per barrel in 2000 to around $110 per barrel in mid-2014 was a dramatic reallocation of global income to oil producers.