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13 September 2022 Statistic
Vrachtschip op zee

In the fourth quarter of 2021, the surplus on the Dutch current account amounted to €15.2 billion, bringing the full-2021 surplus to €81.4 billion. As a percentage of gross domestic product, the surplus for the whole of 2021 stood at 9.5%, well above the 6% standard set by the European Commission. After having reached a more subdued €55.8 billion in 2020, or 7.0% of GDP, the surplus was back at the 2019 level at year-end 2021 (see Figure 1). 

What is the current account?

The current account is one of the three component parts of the balance of payments – the overview of all transactions between the Netherlands and other countries over a specified period. The other two components are the capital account and the financial account. The current account includes international trade in goods and services, as well as primary and secondary income transactions. The difference between the current account income and expenditure is known as the current account balance. For the past few decades, the Netherlands has had a positive current account balance, also referred to as a surplus, which means that income has exceeded expenditure. In recent years, a relatively large export surplus, which is the difference between exports and imports of goods and services, has contributed to the surplus on the Dutch current account. Primary income transactions include wages, interest and dividends. Examples of secondary income transactions are pension and insurance payments, development aid and personal funds transfers. In terms of secondary incomes, more money has left the country than entered it in recent years, while the primary income balance has fluctuated.

All components of the current account contributed to the increase in the surplus from 2020 to 2021. The export surplus, which is the sum of the goods  balance and the services balance, grew by €11.5 billion, while the primary and secondary income deficits fell by €8.1 and €6.0 billion respectively (see Figure 2).

Shell’s relocation has boosted direct investment in the Netherlands

The move of Shell's headquarters from the Netherlands to the United Kingdom, effective 31 December 2021, is reflected in the Dutch balance of payments in several ways. At the time of relocation, the market capitalisation of the entity then named Royal Dutch Shell was around €150 billion. As a result, the fourth quarter of 2021 shows sizeable changes in the financial account, with foreign direct investment in the Netherlands increasing sharply, as the business units still based in the Netherlands now have foreign ownership. Conversely, foreign shareholdings in Dutch listed companies (including Shell until year-end 2021) decreased. It is expected that the relocation will make the Netherlands' international investment position less volatile, given that the value of direct investment is generally more stable than a company's market value. As the move only took place on the last day of the quarter, its impact on the current account will not be visible until 2022. Until 2022, the retained earnings of Shell's foreign subsidiaries were attributed to the Dutch headquarters and thus to the Dutch economy. If the foreign subsidiaries make a profit in 2022 and this is distributed in full in the form of dividends, it will be attributed to the parent company, which is now based in the United Kingdom. The former parent company Royal Dutch Shell’s retained earnings are therefore no longer considered part of the Dutch economy, which will reduce the current account surplus.

Further information

Table 12.1