Breaking free of the triple coincidence in international finance

BIS Working Papers No 524
October 2015

Published in: Economic Policy, 2016.

The traditional approach to international finance is to view capital flows as the financial counterpart to savings and investment decisions, assuming further that the GDP boundary defines both the decision-making unit and the currency area. This "triple coincidence" of GDP area, decision-making unit and currency area is an elegant simplification but misleads when financial flows are important in their own right. First, the neglect of gross flows, when only net flows are considered, can lead to misdiagnoses of financial vulnerability. Second, inattention to the effects of international currencies may lead to erroneous conclusions on exchange rate adjustment. Third, sectoral differences between corporate and official sector positions can distort welfare conclusions on the consequences of currency depreciation, as macroeconomic risks may be underestimated. This paper illustrates the pitfalls of the triple coincidence through a series of examples from the global financial system in recent years and examines alternative analytical frameworks based on balance sheets as the unit of analysis.

JEL classification: F30, F31, F32, F33, F34

Keywords: capital flows, global liquidity, international currencies