US Monetary Inflation With And Without The Fed

The way that most new money was created over the past 10 years was different to how it was created during earlier cycles. During earlier cycles, almost all new money was loaned into existence by commercial banks, but in the final few months of 2008, the Fed stopped relying on the commercial banks and began its own money-creation program (QE).

The difference is important because most of the money created by commercial banks is injected into the ‘real economy’ (the first receivers of the new money are businesses and the general public), whereas all of the money created by the Fed is injected into the financial markets (the first receivers of the new money are bond traders). The Fed’s new money eventually will find its way to Main Street (as opposed to Wall Street), but the rate of monetary inflation experienced by the ‘real economy’ during the years following the Global Financial Crisis was a lot lower than suggested by the change in the US True Money Supply (TMS). Consequently, there may have been a lot less mal-investment during the current cycle than during the years leading up to the 2007-2009 crisis.

Don’t get us wrong — there has been a huge amount of ill-conceived and misdirected investment due to the Fed’s money-pumping and associated suppression of interest rates. Due to these bad investments, corporate balance sheets are now much weaker, on average, than otherwise would be the case. In particular, the corporate world collectively has gone heavily into debt and in a lot of cases, the debt has not been used productively. For example, it has been used to buy back shares or fund high-priced acquisitions. This will have very negative consequences for the stock market within the next few years, but wasting money on share buy-backs and over-paying for assets does not cause the business cycle.

The ‘boom’ phase of the business cycle happens when artificially-low interest rates prompt investment, on an economy-wide scale, in new production facilities and construction projects that would not have seemed viable in the absence of the distorted interest-rate signal. The ‘bust’ phase of the business cycle kicks off when it starts to become apparent that, due to rising construction/production costs and/or less consumer demand than forecast, the aforementioned investments either cannot be completed or will generate a lot less cash than originally expected. Widespread liquidation ensues, and — as long as policy-makers don’t do too much to ‘help’ — resources eventually get reallocated in a way that meshes with sustainable consumer demand. The economy recovers.

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[This post is a slightly modified excerpt from a TSI commentary published about two weeks ago.]

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