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About The Impossible Trinity


The Reserve Bank of India(RBI) and Indian investors are facing a challenge in overcoming the “impossible trinity”.


GS III: Indian Economy

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Impossible Trinity
  2. Challenges Related to the Impossible Trinity
  3. India’s Struggle with the Impossible Trinity
  4. Specific Measures and Their Implications
  5. Implications of the Impossible Trinity for Indian Investors

Impossible Trinity:

The Impossible Trinity, also known as the trilemma, is a concept in international economics and monetary policy. It posits that an economy cannot simultaneously pursue three specific policy objectives: independent monetary policy, a fixed exchange rate, and free capital movement across its borders.

  • Fixed Exchange Rate Regime: In a fixed exchange rate system, a country’s domestic currency is tied to the value of another foreign currency, such as the U.S. dollar, Euro, Pound Sterling, or a basket of currencies. The exchange rate remains relatively constant and is maintained by the central bank.
  • Achieving Two Objectives: According to the Impossible Trinity, even with skilled policymakers, a country can, at best, achieve only two of the three mentioned objectives at any given time. This means that if a country chooses to fix its exchange rate and allow free capital movement, it cannot have an independent monetary policy. Similarly, if it desires an independent monetary policy and a fixed exchange rate, it must restrict capital flows.
  • Origin: The concept of the Impossible Trinity was independently proposed by Canadian economist Robert Mundell and British economist Marcus Fleming in the early 1960s. It has since become a fundamental idea in the field of international economics and monetary policy.

Challenges Related to the Impossible Trinity:

Loss of Monetary Policy Control:

  • When a country prioritizes both free capital flow and a fixed exchange rate, it effectively relinquishes control over its monetary policy.
  • This means that the country’s central bank cannot independently adjust interest rates or money supply to address domestic economic issues without considering external economic pressures.

Imposition of Capital Controls:

  • If a country opts to maintain a fixed exchange rate and an independent monetary policy, it often needs to impose capital controls.
  • These controls restrict or regulate the flow of funds in and out of the country to prevent speculative attacks on its currency. Capital controls can limit financial market openness.

Exchange Rate Volatility:

  • Choosing an independent monetary policy and free capital flow implies accepting exchange rate fluctuations.
  • In this scenario, a country’s currency may experience volatility as it responds to market forces, potentially affecting trade and investment.

India’s Struggle with the Impossible Trinity:

India faces significant challenges related to the Impossible Trinity, where it grapples with the need to balance its exchange rate stability, independent monetary policy, and capital mobility. Here’s how India is struggling with this dilemma:

  • Interest Rate Policy: India’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), has been cautious in raising interest rates compared to the US Federal Reserve. This cautious approach is driven by concerns about potentially causing a recession, particularly with the national elections scheduled for 2024. However, maintaining lower interest rates can lead to a flight of capital back to the US due to more attractive returns, which could result in the depreciation of the Indian rupee.
  • Foreign Exchange Reserves Composition: India’s foreign exchange reserves are primarily composed of “hot money” from Foreign Institutional Investors (FIIs) and corporate borrowings rather than money earned from trade. Relying on such reserves, which are not linked to trade earnings, poses challenges for maintaining currency stability.
  • Capital Control Measures: India has implemented various measures to control capital flows, such as import bans and increased taxes on outbound remittances. However, the effectiveness of these measures in managing the Impossible Trinity remains uncertain.

Specific Measures and Their Implications:

  • Import Bans and Licensing Policies: India imposed import bans, particularly on electronic goods, to limit capital outflows. These bans were later converted into license-based import policies. However, these measures could inadvertently contribute to supply-pull inflation instead of preventing capital outflows.
  • Increased Tax Rates on Outbound Remittances: India raised tax rates on outbound remittances from 5% to 20% to restrict capital outflows. The effectiveness of this tax increase in addressing the Impossible Trinity is being closely observed.
  • Currency Dynamics: China’s deflationary measures and rate cuts aimed at stimulating economic growth have resulted in a depreciating Chinese yuan. In contrast, the Indian rupee (INR) has appreciated by 4% against the Chinese yuan. A stronger INR can lead to increased imports from China, potentially affecting India’s trade balance and currency dynamics.
  • FIIs and Capital Flight: Foreign Institutional Investors (FIIs) have been selling their holdings of Indian debt securities and seeking more profitable investments abroad. This increased demand for foreign currency weakens the Indian rupee in the foreign exchange market.

Implications of the Impossible Trinity for Indian Investors:

The Impossible Trinity presents several implications for Indian investors as they navigate the challenges of exchange rate stability, independent monetary policy, and capital mobility. Here are some key considerations:

  • Sector Selection: Indian investors may consider focusing on sectors like Information Technology (IT) and Pharmaceuticals (Pharma) that primarily earn revenue in dollars. These sectors are less susceptible to rupee depreciation and can act as a shield against currency fluctuations.
  • Competitiveness and Returns: As the Indian rupee weakens relative to major foreign currencies like the US dollar, companies in export-oriented sectors, such as IT and Pharma, may become more competitive in international markets. This increased competitiveness can lead to higher export volumes and potentially offer attractive returns to investors.
  • Diversification: Indian investors should emphasize diversification across asset classes and geographies. Investing in international assets, such as foreign stocks and bonds, becomes crucial for protecting investments in a complex economic environment. Diversification helps spread risk and reduce exposure to domestic economic uncertainties.

-Source: The Hindu

April 2024