Technology Capital and the U.S. Current Account

47 Pages Posted: 12 May 2008 Last revised: 17 Sep 2010

See all articles by Ellen R. McGrattan

Ellen R. McGrattan

Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis - Research Department; University of Minnesota - Twin Cities; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Edward C. Prescott

Arizona State University (ASU) - Economics Department; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Date Written: May 2008

Abstract

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) estimates the return on investments of foreign subsidiaries of U.S. multinational companies over the period 1982--2006 averaged 9.4 percent annually after taxes; U.S. subsidiaries of foreign multinationals averaged only 3.2 percent. Two factors distort BEA returns: technology capital and plant-specific intangible capital. Technology capital is accumulated know-how from intangible investments in R&D, brands, and organizations that can be used in foreign and domestic locations. Used abroad, it generates profits for foreign subsidiaries with no foreign direct investment (FDI). Plant-specific intangible capital in foreign subsidiaries is expensed abroad, lowering current profits on FDI and increasing future profits. We develop a multicountry general equilibrium model with an essential role for FDI and apply the BEA's methodology to construct economic statistics for the model economy. We estimate that mismeasurement of intangible investments accounts for over 60 percent of the difference in BEA returns.

Suggested Citation

McGrattan, Ellen R. and Prescott, Edward C., Technology Capital and the U.S. Current Account (May 2008). NBER Working Paper No. w13983, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1131636

Ellen R. McGrattan (Contact Author)

Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis - Research Department ( email )

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University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Edward C. Prescott

Arizona State University (ASU) - Economics Department ( email )

Tempe, AZ 85287-3806
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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