Guide to IMF Balance of Payments Statistics

INTRODUCTION

Balance of Payments Statistics (BOPS) record the flow of goods, services and finance between an economy and the rest of the world. As one of the primary functions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is to prevent financial crises and assist countries in balance of payments difficulties, the collection of standardised, comparable balance of payments data is seen as a core task.

The IMF BOPS database contains over 200 countries and regional groups. It contains over 100,000 quarterly and annual time series data. Where the data are available, the annual entries generally begin in 1967 and quarterly entries begin in 1970. The period for which data are available varies from country to country, but most countries’ data extend from the mid-1970s to the present.

  • Annual data starts in 1967 and runs until the latest available year (with a small number from 1948)
  • Quarterly data starts in 1970 and runs until the latest available quarter (with a small number from early 1960's)
  • Data in international investment positions available for selected countries from 1981 onwards

The IMF BOPS at the UK Data Service is updated once a month.

Main topics

The Balance of Payments is a statistical statement that summarises, for a specific period (typically a year or quarter), the economic transactions of an economy with the rest of the world. It covers:

  • all the goods, services, factor income and current transfers an economy receives from, or provides to, the rest of the world
  • capital transfers and changes in an economy's external financial claims and liabilities

Transactions are generally between residents and non-residents. The exceptions are the exchange of transferable foreign financial assets between residents and transferable foreign financial liabilities between non-residents. For the purposes of the BOPS, residency relates to the economic territory of a country, not nationality. An international unit is a resident unit when it has a centre of economic interest in the economic territory of a country.

The BOPS methodology uses a double-entry accounting system. This means that every recorded item should have a debit and a credit, and there should be a net balance of zero.

In practice, the figures rarely balance to the point where they cancel each other out. This is the result of errors or omissions in the compilation of statements. A separate balancing item is used to offset the credit or debit.

For most countries, balance of payments data are presented  in both analytic and standard presentations. As its name implies, the analytic presentation is an analytical summary of the more detailed data contained in the standard presentation. BOPS components in the analytic presentation are arranged to highlight the financing items (the reserves and  related items). The standard presentation shows data displayed in the standard components described in the BPM6. For countries for which International  Investment Positions (IIP) statistics are available, the data are presented in the IIP section.

The International Investment Position (IIP)

The International Investment Position (IIP) is the balance sheet of the stock of external financial assets and liabilities. Data for standard IIP components are also included where available in the database. The financial items included are: claims on non-residents, liabilities to non-residents, monetary gold and SDRs (special drawing rights). The Balance of Payments Statistics provide the IIP as part of the individual country data. The basic presentation divides the data between assets and liabilities. The sub-classifications are by function (as with the BOPS financial account). Assets are divided into direct investment, portfolio investment, other investment and reserve assets. Liabilities are divided into direct investment, portfolio investment and other investment.

IIP data reflect a country’s position at the end of the reporting period, as opposed to transactions during the period shown in the standard presentation. Together, the International Investment Position and Balance of Payments transactions constitute the set of international accounts for an economy.

Balance of Payments Methodology - BPM6

Both BOPS and IIP data are presented in accordance with the standard components of the sixth edition of the Balance of Payments and International Investment Position Manual, BPM6. The BPM6, published by the Fund in 2009, introduced a number of methodological changes in the compilation of balance of payments and IIP data.

Not all countries report data as yet in the BPM6 format. For countries reporting in BPM5, the IMF developed formulas to convert reported BOPS and IIP data for each country in the Fund’s database to approximate the BPM6 methodology and presentation.

All BOPS data is expressed in US dollars. The reported data are typically denominated in national currency. Conversion is performed on the basis of average US dollar/national currency exchange rates for BOPS data and on end-of-period exchange rates for IIP data.

Data in the historical folder use the BPM5 methodology.

Access IMF data

Access to the IMF Balance of Payments Statistics via UKDS.Stat is freely available to all. 

Effective January 1st 2015, the IMF introduced a new policy whereby access to the IMF online statistics databases became free to all users.  As a result of this policy the IMF datasets hosted by the UK Data Service are now freely available to all. Please refer to the IMF’s Special Terms and Conditions Pertaining to the Use of Data.

User RESOURCES

The IMF’s Balance of Payments pages provide additional documentation:   

Descriptions of individual country methodologies, compilation practices, and data sources are provided in the Balance of Payments Country Notes. The general section provides an overview of a country’s major data sources and the key methods (surveys, exchange records, international transaction reporting systems, and others) it uses to collect BOPS data and, where appropriate, IIP statistics. The section also discusses major government agencies and other institutions responsible for and involved in the compilation activities.

The IMF also produces an annual print version of the database, the Balance of Payments Statistics Yearbook. The yearbook contains recent time series data from the database:

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