Fed has a problem, folks. Not a new one, but a very, very persistent one: velocity of money.
Here is the data:
What does this mean? The velocity of money is defined as the frequency at which a unit of currency is used to purchase domestically-produced goods and services within a given time period. As FRED database states, "it is the number of times one dollar is spent to buy goods and services per unit of time. If the velocity of money is increasing, then more transactions are occurring between individuals in an economy."
The Fed measures this parameter across three metrics:
- M1, the narrowest component of money which covers currency in circulation (notes and coins, traveler’s checks, demand deposits, and checkable deposits. "A decreasing velocity of M1 might indicate fewer short- term consumption transactions are taking place. We can think of shorter- term transactions as consumption we might make on an everyday basis."
- The broader M2 includes M1 plus saving deposits, certificates of deposit (less than $100,000), and money market deposits for individuals. Comparing the velocities of M1 and M2 provides some insight into how quickly the economy is spending and how quickly it is saving. When M2 is above M1, there are net savings being accumulated in the economy.
- Per FRED: "MZM (money with zero maturity) is the broadest component and consists of the supply of financial assets redeemable at par on demand: notes and coins in circulation, traveler’s checks (non-bank issuers), demand deposits, other checkable deposits, savings deposits, and all money market funds. The velocity of MZM helps determine how often financial assets are switching hands within the economy."
So here is what we have as of 4Q 2017:
- M1 velocity stands at 5.488, lowest reading since 1Q 1973 and 48.6 percent below pre-crisis highs. Which is in part probably reflective of the reduced importance of physical cash in our payments systems, but is also indicative of shrinkages across demand deposits money - the stuff we have in our bank accounts. Note: demand deposits capture electronic transactions, so changes in physical cash spending are offset by changes in electronic cash spending;
- M2 velocity is now 26 quarters running below pre-crisis peak, down 35.1 percent on pre-crisis highs. The metric rose in the last quarter to 1.431 from 1.427 in 3Q 2017, but the levels are still below 1Q 2016. Which suggests that savings are weak.
- Broadest money velocity is at 1.299, unchanged on 1Q 2016 and below pre-crisis highs for the 40th quarter running. The indicator is barely off historical lows of 1.295 achieved in 2Q 2017. MZM velocity is currently 63.4 percent below pre-crisis highs.
- Finally, the gap between the M2 and M1 velocities (a measure of savings) is at negative 4.1 which indicates dis-saving in the economy.
Patently, there are no signs in this data of any positive Fed QE impact on households' balances or propensity to spend. Equally, there is no sign of a serious balancesheet recovery for the households. Yes, the rate of dissaving has fallen from M2-M1 velocity gap of 8.7 around 2007-2008 to current 4.1, but that still implies no deleveraging. Longer term U.S. households financial wellbeing remains under water, with only less liquid assets, such as property and financial investments underpinning household assets and no significant savings cushion held in liquid assets forms.
Equally patent is the fact that the traditional indicators of forward inflationary pressure (e.g. money velocity) are not quite in agreement with the measured inflation (which has exceeded the Fed target four months in a row now and has been beating analysts' expectations over the last three months). The only way the two figures can be reconciled is via increased debt levels on household balances sustaining consumption growth. Not a great sign for the future, folks.