What are Net Foreign Assets (NFA)?
Net Foreign Assets (NFA) refer to the net amount of foreign assets that a country owns or the total value of a country’s foreign assets minus the total value of assets within a country that are owned by foreigners. They indicate whether a country is a net creditor or a net debtor.
For the World Bank, net foreign assets refer to the net total of foreign assets owned by a country’s monetary authorities and banks, minus the foreign liabilities of those entities.
The net foreign assets metric is closely related to two other macroeconomic indicators – the current account and the balance of payments.
- Net Foreign Assets (NFA) refer to the net amount of foreign assets that a country owns.
- The net foreign assets metric is closely related to the current account and balance of payments.
- A net foreign assets position is positive or negative and may impact the foreign exchange value of its currency over time.
Net Foreign Assets, Current Account, and Balance of Payments
The current account, which is one of the two components of the balance of payments along with the capital account, reflects a country’s import versus export position over a designated period. It consists of the country’s balance of trade, plus or minus foreign investment returns or earnings paid to foreign investors, plus or minus net current transfers.
The balance of payments (BoP) is essentially a net measure of all the capital coming into and going out of a country over a given period, such as quarterly or annually. It is the sum of the current account and the capital account.
The current account reflects money flow in and out of a country, while the capital account shows the net change in foreign ownership of a country’s domestic assets versus foreign assets owned by a country’s citizens.
Historically, the net foreign assets metric was viewed as representing the cumulative change, positive or negative, over time in a country’s current account. For example, if a country’s current account balance changes from a $200 billion deficit to a $300 billion surplus, its net foreign assets position increases by $500 billion.
Changes in the NFA Calculation
Many economists pointed out that the traditional calculation of net foreign assets fell short in that it failed to consider changes in the value of assets. Such changes occur simply as the prices of assets rise or fall over time.
Assets change in their relative value in a country’s currency as foreign currency exchange rates change.
For example, if a currency increases in value relative to a foreign currency, the net value of any assets or liabilities denominated in the foreign currency correspondingly decreases. Thus, a 10% increase in the value of the U.S. dollar versus all other foreign currencies will result in a 10% increase in the net foreign assets position of the U.S.
The recognition of the shortcoming in the net foreign assets calculation led to a change in the calculation, as follows:
Change in Net Foreign Assets = Current Account Balance
Change in Net Foreign Assets = Current Account Balance Plus/Minus Changes in the Value of Assets/Liabilities
Significance of Net Foreign Assets
Both the net foreign assets metric and the current account metric are considered important macroeconomic indicators of a country’s overall financial health. They indicate whether a country is in a net position of being owed money by, or owing money to, foreign entities.
If a net foreign assets metric is positive consistently and substantially, it is likely to increase the relative foreign exchange value of the currency, as it indicates a strong overall economy. Conversely, continually running an NFA deficit may be interpreted as weakness in the overall economy, leading to a decline in the relative value of its currency.
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