Monday, January 18, 2010

A Look At The Monetary Aggregates

The growth of the monetary aggregates has slowed significantly in recent months. This, of course, does not mean that the significant concerns over the $1.0 trillion in excess reserves in the banking system have evaporated. By no means!

Looking at the monetary aggregates does provide us with vital information about what economic units are doing with their assets. We took a look at this in an earlier post last November: http://seekingalpha.com/article/175766-how-people-are-using-their-money-and-what-it-says-about-the-economy. At that earlier time, it was obvious that people were moving their assets into transaction accounts and shorter maturity deposits. Also, people were moving money from thrift institutions into commercial banks.

This general movement of wealth can be called “bearish”. That is, when people lack confidence in the economy and in the future, they move into cash and other very liquid assets.

The December year-over-year rate of increase of the currency held outside the banking system stands at 5.7%. This is right in line with the growth rate of M1, the narrow measure of the money stock, which was 5.9% in December.

These growth rates are the lowest to be achieved in 2009. As I shall argue, this is not a sign that “bearishness” is over, just that it lessened throughout the year.

The August year-over-year growth rate for currency was 10.5% and for October 8.3%. The similar measures for the M1 measure of the money stock were 18.5% and 13.4%, respectively. Thus, the move into these assets have slowed, measurably.

There is still strong information that economic units are moving funds from time and savings accounts into transaction accounts. The December year-over-year growth rate of non-M1 accounts, primarily time and savings deposits, was 2.4%, substantially below the growth rate of Demand Deposits and other Checkable Deposits which stood at 6.3%.

The movement here also indicates that the movement from thrift institutions to commercial banks remained strong. For example, the year-over-year rate of growth of Thrift Deposits was 1.7% and this included an increase of Checkable Deposits at thrift institutions of 13.1%. The thrift industry is still really suffering.

Add to this the fact that the 1.7% figure includes deposits at Credit Unions, which are rising significantly, strengthens the argument that the traditional thrift industry continues to suffer badly!

Additional evidence of the move into very liquid assets is the fact that the amount of money placed in Retail Money Funds dropped almost 26%, year-over-year, and the money placed in Institutional Money Funds fell by 8.0%, year-over-year.

People continue to be afraid of the future, and, as a consequence they remain very bearish in terms of how they are managing their assets.

This leads to the conclusion that the basic positive movements in financial markets, in the stock market and in the bond market, almost all come from institutional trading. And, this “good” performance is coming from the interest rate subsidy that the Federal Reserve is providing to the banking system and the financial markets.

The increase in transaction accounts in the banking system has meant that the required reserves of the banking system have increased. The December year-over-year rate of increase of required reserves in the banking system was 18.5%.

To cover this, the Federal Reserve, continuing to err on the side of providing too many reserves, increased the monetary base by 22.0% over the same period of time. As a result, excess reserves rose by 40%.

The banking system still tells us a lot about what is happening within the economy. It tells us what the banks, themselves, are doing. It tells us how people are allocating their assets. It provides us with a gauge about the bullishness or bearishness of economic units. It also gives us some information on how the different sectors of the banking industry, big banks, small- and medium-sized banks, and thrift institutions are doing.

The scorecard:

  • People are still moving their money from savings accounts to transaction accounts;
  • Commercial banks, in general, are not lending;
  • Economic units are, by-and-large, still very bearish;
  • Big banks are doing very, very well;
  • Small- and medium-sized banks are still on the edge;
  • And, thrift institutions are really suffering.

One doesn’t see much of a recovery captured in these results.

1 comment:

Flow5 said...

(1) "people were moving money from thrift institutions into commercial banks"

(2) "The movement here also indicates that the movement from thrift institutions to commercial banks remained strong"

From an accounting point your deduction is impossible. CBs create new money & credit. Thrifts loan existing money that has been saved. The thrifts are the customers of the CBS.

The thrifts have suffered disintermediation. The CBS haven't suffered from disintermediation since the Great Depression. The thrifts will have to become commercial banks in order to compete.