Consistency between national accounts and balance of payments statistics
Data extracted in April 2019.
Planned article update: August 2019.
From 2014 to 2018, Luxembourg and France were the largest contributors to inconsistencies, with collectively almost 50 % of all measured discrepancies in the EU country statistics.
8 Member States show contradictory signs in their balances of the non-financial and financial accounts.
Author: Robert Obrzut
In 2014, the methodological standards for compiling European national accounts and balance of payments statistics (BOP) have been harmonised. Hence, in applying both methodologies, the European System of Accounts 2010 (ESA2010) and the Balance of Payments and International Investment Position Manual in its 6th edition (BPM6) suggest a high degree of comparability and consistency between the national accounts (rest-of-the-world sector) and BOP statistics . As a consequence, the economic activities that are recorded in both statistics should lead the user to the same conclusions, e.g. an export of goods or services from the compiling economy to the rest of the world should be ideally confirmed by the statistics of the national accounts, as the same phenomena of economic activity are captured. Where this is not the case, the economic reading of data becomes difficult and challenges the reliability of both statistics. Such discrepancies could arise from e.g. the insufficient coordination of compilation practices or different readings of the standards by the respective compilers, as well as from different access to data sources, sometimes even the lack of synchronised revision practices. In regard to national peculiarities in organising statistical compilation processes, some countries could be more concerned than others, in regard to complexity, some data components could be more exposed than others.
Since October 2015, Eurostat systematically analyses inconsistencies, based on quality reports, compiler surveys or regular monitoring exercises and emphasises the importance of comparable statistics in Europe, both at national and international level. In the report below Eurostat gives an updated view on the current state of consistency in the accounts of the EU-28 Member States. This comparison is based on quarterly statistics, where systematic vintage effects are expected to be less prevailing under the year due to the high update frequencies of the underlying statistics. The data have been annualised in order to support easy reading.
Data sets of the BOP and the ROW sector are similar but not necessarily identical
The gross transactions of the non-financial accounts reflect inbound and outbound flows between the reporting economy and the rest of the world (ROW). Consequently, inbound flows to the reporting economy (BOP credits) should equal outbound flows (ROW payables) of the ROW sector account; outbound flows from the reporting economy (BOP debits) should mirror likewise inbound flows (ROW receivables) to the ROW sector. The sub-items of the accounts appear directly comparable in both statistics, and the overall balance of the current and capital account should resemble the net lending/net borrowing of the ROW sector account (Table 1). A rough look at the (annualised) data from the statistics of the BOP and the ROW sector account reveal that indeed the data sets appear similar, as they describe the same economic phenomena (Table 2). The statistics of the EU-28 aggregate which is compiled by Eurostat show high similarities in their non-financial components, while the country statistics of the EU Member States record in some cases deviating figures. With this reasoning, consistency measures have to be consulted to assess whether the observed deviations are prominent or not.
A detailed table containing data on transactions of the BOP and the ROW sector, non-financial accounts, credit/payables and debit/receivables, 2018 is available here.
Services and primary income are most exposed to discrepancies
Current measures confirm continued inconsistencies in the country statistics of the EU-28 Member States with prominent exposure of specific components of the non-financial accounts. Absolute discrepancies in the country statistics of the EU-28 Member States assumed in total EUR 294 billion for 2017 (i.e. 1.9 % of EU-28 GDP) and 321 billion for 2018 (i.e. 2.0 % of EU-28 GDP), when earlier comparisons from October 2015 concluded on considerably higher levels of inconsistencies, between EUR 250 to 300 billion (i.e. around 3 % of EU-28 GDP). In relative terms, the extent of overall inconsistencies remained below 2 % of EU-28 GDP in their multi-annual mean of 2014-2018. In particular, the services account shows higher discrepancies over time than the other components of the non-financial accounts. These are followed by primary income and goods. Secondary income as well as capital account remain only moderately exposed in absolute terms. It appears noteworthy that the consistency of the primary income accounts has experienced particular improvements since 2015 but, due to its complexity and dependency on primary statistics (i.e. financial data) and estimation practices, it remains still exposed to methodological and coordination issues.
Only five Member States are the main contributors in absolute terms
A look at the underlying country data reveals a highly diversified picture of the geographical breakdown of discrepancies in the EU-28 in absolute terms (Figure 1). Depending on their exposure to components of the non-financial accounts, five Member States showed very high absolute discrepancies within the EU-28, contributing together close to 80 % of all measured discrepancies. This applies to France, Luxembourg, Germany, Portugal and Greece. Alone 25 % of mean discrepancies occurring during 2016-2018 can be currently attributed to France and 24 % to Luxembourg, which are both major contributors to inconsistencies in the EU-28 in absolute terms. On the other hand, quite a few Member States show either no (absolute) inconsistencies, or only low inconsistencies in their non-financial accounts, such as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Cyprus, Denmark, Austria, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
The measured (absolute) discrepancies in the components of the non-financial accounts vary among the most exposed countries. While France shows high levels of discrepancies in services, Luxembourg contributes most prominently to discrepancies in both services and primary income. Germany faces currently higher discrepancies in primary income, Portugal and Greece in goods and services.
Six Member States indicate relatively high inconsistencies in some of their components
In regard to the countries’ GDP, the view is slightly different. Economies which are exposed to high cross-border transaction volumes, such as Germany or France, appear less exposed to discrepancies in relative terms, i.e. showing component deviations of below or close to 2 % of their GDP (EU average for this period).
In the current comparison relatively high exposure above average occurred in Bulgaria (primary income), Ireland (primary income), Greece (goods, services), France (services), Luxembourg (goods, services and primary income), and Portugal (goods, services). Bulgarian sector accounts statistics have not been updated, thus a vintage effect can be assumed in this comparison. The main outlier in relative terms is Luxembourg (49 % of GDP in services, 81 % of GDP in primary income).
Inconsistencies in the financial account
The financial account complements the current and capital accounts of the balance of payments, and describes how the economic transactions of the non-financial accounts are financed. In order to give a complete picture, the BOP financial account is compared with its mirror financial transactions, recorded in sector accounts statistics. Technically, (net) transactions in BOP assets and liabilities should match the corresponding liabilities and assets of the ROW sector account. As there are some implicit complexities in this comparison with distorting effects, the comparison of total net values can give a rough indication on the consistency in the financial accounts. In contrast to the non-financial accounts a meaningful comparison of the financial accounts components appears difficult due to different concepts applying to the financial statistics of the BOP and the ROW sector (functional versus instrument categorisation). Inconsistencies in the financial accounts appear generally lower than in the non-financial accounts, but their occurrence is more wide spread. Discrepancies appear less prominent as the compilation of the financial accounts usually falls under the competence of one statistical authority (either national central bank or statistical institute) and thus coordination-related issues prevail to a lesser extent. Germany, Ireland, France and Sweden record major absolute discrepancies of above EUR 10 billion on average between 2016 and 2018. In relative terms, major exposure is shown however for Malta with discrepancies of 11 % of its GDP and Ireland at more than 5 % of its GDP (Figure 3).
Contradictory balances - severe limitations to statistical comparability
Contradictory balances arise when one set of statistics releases balances with opposite signs to the other. They reflect the most unfortunate feature of inconsistent statistics, i.e. when contradicting messages can be derived by the user. Generally the main items/component balances in the non-financial accounts have to show the same signs, in order to be conclusive. In the non-financial accounts, BOP net surpluses/deficits should be equally reflected by the corresponding net balances of the ROW sector. Positive balances represent higher international transactions in exports than in imports (surplus) in this context, while negative balances mean the opposite (deficit). Likewise, in the financial accounts the total net value of BOP assets minus liabilities (including net financial derivatives) and the mirror total net value of assets minus liabilities of the ROW sector should show opposite signs, in order to compensate the net values of the domestic economy with the ROW sector. For example, if the total net of BOP is positive, it shows the economy as net lender due to higher assets than liabilities to the rest of the world. Consequently, the ROW sector account as a mirror should signal net borrowing (i.e. higher liabilities than assets with this country). And vice versa, net borrowing in the BOP financial account (indicated by a negative net value) should be mirrored by (positive) net lending in the ROW sector account. Same signs in both total net values are therefore considered contradictory.
Altogether, eight Member States currently show cases of inconsistent signs in the balances of their non-financial accounts for years 2016 to 2018 (Table 4) – the Luxembourg goods accounts, the services accounts of Belgium, the primary income accounts of Bulgaria, the secondary income accounts of Poland, and the net values of the capital accounts of Germany, France, Luxembourg and Slovakia. While the BOP capital accounts of the mentioned countries always show surpluses and their mirror ROW balances deficits, their BOP current account balances record deficits with contradictory surpluses in the ROW sector accounts. Data evidence from 2018 shows Luxembourg appears most prominently as BOP net importer of goods (EUR 3.0 billion), but net exporter of goods (EUR 0.8 billion) in the sector accounts. Belgium reports a trade deficit in services (EUR 5.0 billion) but a small trade surplus of EUR 0.2 billion in 2018. Slight inconsistencies occurred in Bulgaria in its primary income and Poland in its secondary income (BOP deficit of EUR 0.1 billion, ROW surplus of EUR 0.4 billion in 2018).
Currently seven Member States have contradictory signs in their total net values of the BOP and ROW financial accounts, and one Member State (France) in its total net financial positions - the international investment position (IIP) compared with financial balance sheet statistics of the ROW sector account. In 2017, Belgium recorded a firm net borrowing of EUR 4 billion in its BOP financial account, but likewise net borrowing of the approximately same amount in its ROW sector (Table 5). Similarly, Malta and Sweden showed net lending in 2018 in their BOP and ROW financial accounts simultaneously. The financial positions of France confirmed a firm net borrowing status in its IIP statistics (EUR 461 billion in 2017), but so does its ROW sector balance sheet statistics (EUR 29 billion in 2017).
Source data for tables and graphs
Eurostat monitors developments in consistency between BOP and National Accounts statistics with regular data comparisons of quarterly BOP (QBOP) and the ROW of the quarterly sector accounts (QSA). According to the methodological standards these data are fully comparable and should be reconciled with little or no inconsistencies. The time span of the analysis (2014-2018) was chosen due to the broad availability of BOP time series, which were compiled in regard to the BPM6 standard, and the reduced risk for revision effects coming from historical data due to different revision practices. The analysis focuses on gross transactions data in the current account, allowing discrepancies to be identified in regard to BOP credit/ROW payables and BOP debit/ROW receivables, respectively. In the lack of underlying gross transactions in one component (Acquisition less disposals of non-financial, non-produced assets) for the capital account net transactions are compared. From the financial accounts their total net values (assets minus liabilities) are compared between BOP/IIP and transactions/positions of the ROW sector accounts (financial transactions and balance sheets). The analysis unfortunately has to face data gaps, as some Member States have not delivered comparable sector accounts data with the other related statistical domains. A full set of comparable quarterly data is currently missing in the sector accounts of Bulgaria, Croatia, Poland and Slovakia. This analysis is based on the data publications of April 2019 and it is thus implicitly assumed that the published time series are directly comparable in all Member States. QSA data usually become available circa three weeks after the QBOP data release. Due to the different publication calendars and revision practices, revision and vintage effects cannot be entirely excluded.
The debate among statisticians as to why discrepancies between BOP and National Accounts persist although the methodological standards clearly suggest full consistency, has drawn the focus of researchers to the causes of inconsistencies. Through its investigations Eurostat has prominently contributed to identifying the major causes for inconsistencies in the non-financial accounts:
- The organisational setting of national compilation processes plays a prominent role in explaining the occurrence of inconsistencies particularly in the non-financial accounts, where in many Member States more than one statistical institution is involved. Decentralised statistical compilation systems lead to institutional coordination issues, which have not been adequately addressed in some Member States due to institutional autonomies and lack of cooperation, coordination or data exchange. Further, this has also resulted in different and uncoordinated readings of the methodological standards.
- Different access to (micro) data sources or source statistics generates discrepancies, in particular for items that can be measured from a heterogeneous spectrum of data sources. It has been further shown that “contagion effects” arising from different (vintages of) source data, could import inconsistencies into the final statistical product (e.g. financial data for the calculation of investment income).
- Items difficult to measure through surveys or administrative data sources are naturally subject to estimations or extrapolations (e.g. Financial Intermediation Services, Indirectly Measured [FISIM]). This paves the way for discrepancies, when applied by more than one counterpart and without coordination.
- Due to the specific objectives in each set of statistics and the foregone investment in IT infrastructure, (automatic) compilation systems are less flexible for being redesigned or adapted to new needs. Further, manipulation of underlying compilation processes requires back data revisions, which challenge data stability of longer time series. As a consequence, national counterparts generally appear less inclined to challenge already established and effectively working operational processes, even when their statistical products diverge from each other to some extent. It has also been recently emphasised by some Member States that in the above context balancing practices of national accountants on the ROW sector can hardly be reconciled with the BOP.
- Institutional peculiarities foster discrepancies arising from different delineations of economic sectors (e.g. captive financial institutions, government sector). International organisations play an important role in clarifying identified issues in a coordinated manner.
- International recommendations have so far focused on the consistent treatment of data in BOP and National Accounts, but abstracted from the dilemma that through their recommendations the consistency to other macroeconomic statistics (e.g. Input-Output tables) is challenged in specific cases. This exposes the compiler to the dilemma of choosing between conflicting priorities (e.g. Portugal).
- Revision and vintage effects persist as “statistical noise” due to different publication calendars and revision practices, which hamper full consistency. Consequently, zero absolute discrepancies appear achievable only from fully integrated production systems (e.g. the United Kingdom) or systems with a high degree of coordination (e.g. Cyprus, the Netherlands, Austria). It has also been emphasised recently by some Member States that coordination of production processes under the year is little practiced, and coordination of the statistical products occurs rather during the annual cycles.
Eurostat maintains its ambitions to reduce overall discrepancies in the EU-28 Member States' national accounts and BOP statistics and has supported investigations to the fundamental reasons for inconsistencies. It encourages compilers to regard better comparability of their statistical products with high priority, and abolish directional inconsistencies in their statistics (i.e. contradictory signs in the account balances and net values). This applies in particular to the oncoming benchmark revisions of the national accounts and BOP statistics in 2019, envisaged by most EU Member States. As a result, full reconciliation should become possible in the country statistics of all EU Member States. At the same time Eurostat is aware that statistical comparability is not alone guaranteed by fully consistent national data, but also by symmetric data with its major international partners. At this moment European statistics still shows high asymmetries both among the EU-28 Member States and with some prominent external trading partners. This poses an additional challenge to the comparability and the reputation of European statistics. The European Statistical System as a supranational network effectively addresses these issues and as a coordination body thus can contribute to better quality of data of EU country statistics.
- Trade asymmetries and Consistency between National Accounts and Balance of Payments, in: Selected papers from the 2016 Conference of European Statistics Stakeholders, Luxembourg 2017
- Consistency between national accounts and balance of payment statistics — an updated view on the non-financial accounts, Luxembourg 2017
- Obrzut, R.: Consistency between national accounts and balance of payments statistics, in: EURONA Nr. 1/2016
- Eurostat Statistical Working Paper: Consistency between national accounts and balance of payments statistics, Luxembourg 2016
- Balance of payments statistics and International investment positions (BPM6) (bop_q6)
- Quarterly sector accounts (ESA 2010) (nasq_10)
- Annual sector accounts (ESA 2010) (nasa_10)
- Regulation (EC) No 184/2005 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 January 2005 on Community statistics concerning balance of payments, international trade in services and foreign direct investment.
- Commission Regulation (EU) No 555/2012 of 22 June 2012 amending Regulation (EC) No 184/2005 of the European Parliament and of the Council on Community statistics concerning balance of payments, international trade in services and foreign direct investment, as regards the update of data requirements and definitions.
- Regulation (EU) No 2016/1013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 8 June 2016 amending Regulation (EC) No 184/2005 on Community statistics concerning balance of payments, international trade in services and foreign direct investment (Text with EEA relevance)
- Regulation (EU) No 549/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2013 on the European system of national and regional accounts in the European Union
- BPM6 Appendix 7, ESA2010 Chapter 18
- The ECB launches in particular more detailed analyses of the financial accounts.
- The ROW sector accounts of Bulgaria, Croatia, Poland and Slovakia were not available for a meaningful data comparison in the current exercise.
- The measured absolute discrepancies of Member States are summed up to an EU total. For analytical purposes this helps us to monitor developments in the underlying data seen from a European rather than national perspective. This figure is however not to be confused with the measured consistency of the statistics for the EU-28 aggregate.
- A particular situation applies to Portugal (and to some extent Greece) where the discrepancies in goods and services are almost equal, pointing at systematic reclassifications of travel/business travel between these two components for the sake of accommodating the conflicting consistency requirements of the country's Input-Output tables.
- BOP financial derivatives are for example recorded only as net values and thus can only be compared with the corresponding net values of the sector accounts
- Obrzut R. (2016), in: EURONA, p.112
- BOP balance = BOP credits minus BOP debits; ROW balance = ROW payables minus ROW receivables
- The differences in the goods accounts of Luxembourg are caused by different data sources for international merchanting transactions.
- Polish compilers apply different validation methods to transactions in the EU structural funds.
- Depending of country practices BOP statistics does not envisage systematic revisions of the entire time series of its statistics. This is why we resorted in the above comparison in some cases to even shorter periods 2016-2018.