Posts Tagged ‘US Fed’

Broad money growth (M3, Shadow Government Statistics) in the US keeps on decelerating since the end of 2015. As reported in the latest Monthly Monetary Update (Institute of International Monetary Research, IIMR), ‘In the final quarter of 2016 US M3 grew at an annualised rate of 2.2%. This follows on from a mere 0.9% in the three months to November, the slowest annualised quarterly growth rate in over five years. 2016 ends with US broad money growing at an annual rate of 4.0%, which is respectable, but down on 2015’s figure of 4.3%. In mid- 2016, the figure was 4.5%. The subsequent slowdown in broad money growth has been primarily caused by “quantitative tightening” ‘.










Source: January Money Update, IIMR


What is ‘Quantitative Tightening’? As stated in the IIMR’s January money update cited above ‘ (…) “quantitative tightening” (i.e., the reversal of quantitative easing) when it allows its stock of asset-backed securities to run off at maturity. The Fed can use proceeds from the maturing ABSs to reduce its cash reserve liabilities to the banks rather than to finance new, offsetting purchases of securities.’ (See the January Monetary Update, IIMR). What we do not know yet is whether the Fed has intentionally pursued such a monetary contractive policy, or rather it is just the (indeed surprisingly unnoticed) consequence of the fall securities in its balance sheet when they reach maturity. As far as I know the Fed has not made a public policy announcement in this regard nor committed to such policy.

Why does this matter? Well it does matter when the medium to the long term correlation between money growth and nominal income is acknowledged. Of course it is not a mechanical or a one-to-one correlation,  and indeed time lags should be taken into account; anyhow in an environment where the demand of money is fairly stable, changes in the rate of growth of money do translate into changes in nominal income. Table below shows such empirical relation in the US in the last five decades:








Source: January Money Update, IIMR


Thus should this weakening in money growth in the US continue in the next quarters it will most likely have an impact on economic growth forecasts. This is subject to several caveats though; the new US administration has already announced a profound change in bank regulation which may well ease the pressure put in the midst of the Global Financial Crisis on small and medium size banks particularly to expand their balance sheets. If this materialises in the near future, the creation of more bank deposits in the economy could offset the monetary contractive policy followed by the Fed in the last few months, intentionally or not.


Juan Castañeda





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This was the title of George Selgin (CFMA, Cato) talk at the Institute of International Monetary Research (IIMR) and the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) seminar, ‘Quantitative Easing. Triumph or Folly?’ (3rd Nov. 2016). The title of course evokes Ben Bernanke‘s words at the conference held in 2002 to honour Milton Friedman for his 90th birthday; in his speech Bernanke ended with some words that have resonated everywhere in the midst and the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis in 2007-09: ‘Let me end my talk by abusing slightly my status as an official representative of the Federal Reserve. I would like to say to Milton and Anna: Regarding the Great Depression. You’re right, we did it. We’re very sorry. But thanks to you, we won’t do it again.‘ True, banks’ deposits have not contracted (as it did happened in the early 1930’s) around 30% in the recent crisis, but broad monetary growth (M2) plummeted in 2009 and did have a subsequent impact in the extension, amplitude and the severity of the crisis.

The 1930’s crisis is the historical precedent used by George Selgin to judge the Fed’s response to the two major financial crises occurred since the establishment of the US Fed in 1913; the Great Depression and the Global Financial Crisis. Selgin resorts to well-established monetary theory to recommend an early intervention in monetary markets in case of a banking crisis occurs in order to prevent the payment system and financial markets from falling. And he does so by using Walter Bagehot‘s well-known criteria for central banks to act effectively as the lenders of last resort in a monetary system where the reserves are held by a single bank: (1) the central bank must act promptly and provide loans to illiquid but solvent banks with no limit (2) against collateral (assets that would have been used in normal times) and (3) at a penalty rate; that is an interest rate higher than the normal or policy rate.

Did the Fed abide by those criteria?

As you can surely tell by the title of his talk, Selgin is very critical with the lack of an effective response of the Fed in 2008, which ended up in a drastic fall in monetary growth in the economy in 2009 (see the rate of growth of US M2 since 2007 here). Normally banks’ deposits at the central bank are a sort of a restriction that constraint the potential expansion of their balance sheets. The Fed’s policy of increasing the remuneration US banks’ deposits (or excess reserves) in the midst of the crisis (at a time where there were not many profitable investments options for banks) turned those deposits at the Fed as an asset. In this new policy scenario US banks comfortably sat on a vast amount of cash at the Fed, and did get a profit for doing so; this indeed discouraged them from channelling the money lent out by the Fed to the economy and resulted in an ineffective threefold expansion in the US monetary base. This recent example helps to explain the lack of a mechanical connection between expansions in the monetary base and those in  broader measures of money (such as M2, which hardly grew, if at all, at the time).

Watch out George Selgin’s video with his talk in full here for further details. In a nutshell, according to Selgin it was a combination of bad policy measures which caused the Great Contraction and not an inevitable policy outcome. Enjoy the talk!

Juan Castañeda


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