For 2015 as a whole, the surplus on the current account of the balance of payments came to EUR 62 billion (9.1% of gross domestic product). This means that the surplus fell again, as did the primary income balance. For the first time in years, the Netherlands made more factor income payments to foreign countries than it received. In the fourth quarter of 2015, the Netherlands' net international investment position increased to EUR 547 billion at 2015 year-end, from EUR 504 billion at end 2014.
For 2015 as a whole, the surplus on the current account of the balance of payments came to EUR 62 billion (9.1% of gross domestic product). The surplus was entirely accounted for by visible trade, as the value of Dutch exports exceeded that of imports by EUR 78 billion. The trade surplus did decline by almost EUR 1 billion relative to 2014, however. This marked the end of a series of rising trade surpluses that started in 2010. The primary income balance fell for the third consecutive year, ending up slightly negative at EUR - 0.9 billion in 2015. Net income on securities transactions fell in particular, due to dividend payments on Dutch securities (including retained earnings of Dutch investment funds), which in 2015 were higher in all quarters than in the previous year. Invisible trade was the only sector to achieve a EUR 1.5 billion rise in the net balance of cross-border transactions. All in all, the current account surplus ended up slightly lower than in 2014.
Both in the last quarter of 2015 and for the year as a whole, the lower trade balance was attributable to natural gas trade and trade in products other than energy products. Exports of natural gas were significantly lower than in 2014 in all quarters. In line with the pick-up in the domestic economy, imports increased more sharply than exports in other merchandise.
Financial transactions and net international investment position
The Netherlands' net international investment position in 2015 increased by EUR 43 billion to EUR 547 billion at end 2015. The balance of direct investment transactions was EUR 12 billion higher than in 2014. Special financial institutions (SFIs) reduced their direct investments, which are partly financed by issuing debt paper. The rise in net foreign direct investment was accounted for by non-SFIs, which made considerable direct investments abroad in the last two quarters of 2015, including the takeover of US technology company Freescale by chip maker NXP Semiconductors in the fourth quarter. As non-SFIs also repaid EUR 12 billion on intra-group loans, DFI transactions posted a EUR 37 billion positive balance for 2015 as a whole.
Securities transactions in 2015 also contributed towards the improved investment position of the Netherlands. In the fourth quarter this was primarily driven by redemptions on Dutch debt paper, both by SFIs and other institutions. Foreign investors bought securities issued by Dutch non-financial institutions on a fairly large scale, but on balance Dutch securities to the amount of EUR 13 billion were sold. Banks and public authorities, in particular, made substantial redemptions on money market paper held by foreign investors. Dutch investors (except SFIs) on balance sold foreign securities to the tune of almost EUR 1 billion, with underlying net sales of listed equities and units and net purchases of foreign capital market paper. Banks and insurance companies sold foreign securities, which sales were offset by positive net purchases made by pension funds (US and German bonds in particular) and De Nederlandsche Bank. The depreciation of the euro and the increasing value of equities and participating interests induced an increase in securities positions, both for claims (EUR 34 billion contribution to the increase) and liabilities (EUR 19 billion).