The Velocity of Money
Why the economy moves at the speed of money.
First, let's look at the adjusted monetary base, or plain old cash plus bank reserves (remember that fact) held at the Federal Reserve. That’s the only part of the money supply the Fed has any real direct control of. Until recently, there was very little year-over-year growth. The monetary base grew along a rather predictable long-term trend line, with some variance from time to time, but always coming back to the mean.
But in the last few months the monetary base has grown by a staggering amount - over 1400% on an annual basis, as shown in the next chart from my friend Dr. Lacy Hunt at Hoisington Asset Management. And when you see the "J-curve" in the monetary base (which is likely to rise even more!) it does demand an explanation. There are those who suggest this is an indication of a Federal Reserve gone wild and that 2,000-dollar gold and a plummeting dollar are just around the corner. They are looking at that graph and leaping to conclusions. But it is what you don't see that is important.
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Now, the same graph but in percentage terms:
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Several of my readers have sent me questions related to the chart below, which compares the above graph to the value of the US dollar, as measured in the trade-weighted dollar index. If the Fed is flooding the market with dollars, does that not mean a crash in the dollar is imminent? What foreign government or investor would want to hold dollars when the Fed is debasing the currency so rapidly?
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Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Illiquid
The answer is that the Fed is not creating money in the sense of monetizing the national debt. Remember that the adjusted monetary base is cash plus bank reserves on deposit at the Fed. Banks have to hold a certain portion of their assets as liquid assets in order to meet potential demand from depositors for their money. If they go below that required number, the regulators come in and demand they increase their liquid assets immediately.
Various assets have been getting a "haircut" as to their ability to count as liquid reserves. With more and more assets becoming illiquid, the amount of money held in the liquid asset portion of many US banks assets has been dwindling. What to do? The Fed decided to take these assets and trade them (temporarily) for US treasuries, which are quite liquid.
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