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Dictionary beginning with B


When a commodity is valued more highly in a spot market (that is, when it is for delivery today) than in a futures market (for delivery at some point in the future). Normally, interest costs mean that futures prices are higher than spot prices, unless the markets expect the price of the commodity to fall over time, perhaps because there is a temporary bottleneck in supply. When spot prices are lower than futures prices it is known as contango.

Balance of payments

The total of all the money coming into a country from abroad less all of the money going out of the country during the same period. This is usually broken down into the current account and the capital account. The current account includes:

*visible trade (known as merchandise trade in the United States), which is the value of exports and imports of physical goods;

*invisible trade, which is receipts and payments for services, such as banking or advertising, and other intangible goods, such as copyrights, as well as cross-border dividend and interest payments;

*private transfers, such as money sent home by expatriate workers;

*official transfers, such as international aid.

The capital account includes:

*long-term capital flows, such as money invested in foreign firms, and profits made by selling those investments and bringing the money home;

*short-term capital flows, such as money invested in foreign currencies by international speculators, and funds moved around the world for business purposes by multinational companies. These short-term flows can lead to sharp movements in exchange rates, which bear little relation to what currencies should be worth judging by fundamental measures of value such as purchasing power parity.

As bills must be paid, ultimately a country's accounts must balance (although because real life is never that neat a balancing item is usually inserted to cover up the inconsistencies).

"Balance of payments crisis" is a politically charged phrase. But a country can often sustain a current account deficit for many years without its economy suffering, because any deficit is likely to be tiny compared with the country's national income and wealth. Indeed, if the deficit is due to firms importing technology and other capital goods from abroad, which will improve their productivity, the economy may benefit. A deficit that has to be financed by the public sector may be more problematic, particularly if the public sector faces limits on how much it can raise taxes or borrow or has few financial reserves. For instance, when the Russian government failed to pay the interest on its foreign debt in August 1998 it found it impossible to borrow any more money in the international financial markets. Nor was it able to increase taxes in its collapsing economy or to find anybody within Russia willing to lend it money. That truly was a balance of payments crisis.

In the early years of the 21st century, economists started to worry that the United States would find itself in a balance of payments crisis. Its current account deficit grew to over 5% of its GDP, making its economy increasingly reliant on foreign credit.

Balanced budget

When total public-sector spending equals total government income during the same period from taxes and charges for public services. Politicians in some countries, such as the United States, have argued that government should be required to run a balanced budget in order to have sound public finances. However, there is no economic reason why public borrowing need necessarily be bad. For instance, if the debt is used to invest in things that will increase the growth rate of the economy--infrastructure, say, or education--it may be justified. It may also make more economic sense to try to balance the budget on average over an entire economic cycle, with public-sector deficits boosting the economy during recession and surpluses stopping it overheating during booms, than to balance it every year.


When a court judges that a debtor is unable to make the payments owed to a creditor. How bankrupts are treated can affect economic growth. If bankrupts are punished too severely, would-be entrepreneurs may be discouraged from taking the financial risks needed to make the most of their ideas. However, letting off defaulting debtors too readily may discourage potential creditors because of moral hazard.

America's bankruptcy code, in particular its Chapter 11 protection for firms from their creditors, is particularly friendly to troubled borrowers, allowing them to borrow more money and giving them time to work out their problems. Some other countries quickly close down a bankrupt firm, and try to repay its debts by selling off any assets it has.