Should we Worry that Velocity of Money is plunging?

Some writers have attributed slow GDP growth in the US to the plunging velocity of money.

In layman’s terms, the velocity of money is the ratio between your bank balance and the amount you spend. For the economy as a whole, it is measured as the ratio of GDP (or national income) against the total stock of money (or money supply).

When the economy is hot, consumers have a higher propensity to spend — or invest in the latest hot stock — and the ratio normally rises. When the economy cools, the ratio falls.

If the ratio was fixed, the job of central bankers would be simple: print more money and GDP would rise.

M1 Money Supply and GDP Growth

Unfortunately that is not the case. GDP growth has remained slow, post-2007, despite a sharp boost in the money supply.

M1 is a narrow definition of money: cash in circulation plus travelers checks, demand deposits (at call) and check account balances.

The ratio of GDP to M1 money (or M1 Velocity) has almost halved, from a 2007 high of 10.7 to a current low of 5.5.

M1 Money Supply and GDP Growth

Does this mean that consumers are feverishly stuffing cash into mattresses as the economy goes into a death-dive or is there a more rational explanation?

Examine the above chart more closely and you will see a clear relationship until 1980 between the velocity of money and interest rates (in this case the Fed funds rate). When interest rates rise, the velocity of money rises. So when interest rates fall, as they have post-2007, to near zero, the velocity of money should fall. As it has done.

The anomaly is not the current fall in the velocity of money but the rise in velocity of money between 1990 and 2000, when interest rates were falling. There are two explanations that I can think of. One is the digital revolution, with the advent of online bank accounts and automated clearing of business checking accounts which enabled depositors to minimize balances in non-interest bearing accounts. Second, is the rapid growth of money market funds which fall outside the ambit of M1 and M2.

Velocity of money measured as GDP/MZM gives a clearer picture, with velocity rising when rates rise and falling when rates fall. MZM is M1 plus all savings deposits and money market funds that are redeemable (at par) on demand.

M1 Money Supply and GDP Growth

We should expect to see the velocity of money recover as interest rates rise. If that doesn’t happen, then it will be time to worry.

Strange as it may seem, we could witness something really unusual: if higher interest rates stimulate GDP.

The Chicago Plan (1939)

The 1939 proposal — A PROGRAM FOR MONETARY REFORM — by a group of eminent economists, including Irving Fisher, became known as the “Chicago Plan” after its chief proponent, professor Henry Simons from the University of Chicago. The core proposal is to require banks to hold 100% reserves against demand deposits1, ending the fractional reserve banking system and making the monetary authority (the Fed) solely responsible for creation of new money. This extract describes major features of the plan:

Lending Under the 100% Reserve System
The 100% reserve requirement would, in effect, completely separate from banking the power to issue money. The two are now disastrously interdependent. Banking would become wholly a business of lending and investing pre-existing money. The banks would no longer be concerned with creating the money they lend or invest, though they would still continue to be the chief agencies for handling and clearing checking accounts.

Under the present fractional reserve system, if any actual money is deposited in a checking account, the bank has the right to lend it out as belonging to the bank and not to the depositor. The legal title to the money rests, indeed, in the bank. Under the 100% system, on the other hand, the depositor who had a checking account (i.e., a demand deposit) would own the money which he had on deposit in the bank; the bank would simply hold the money in trust for the depositor who had title to it. As regards time or savings deposits, on the other hand, the situation would, under the 100% system, remain essentially as it is today. Once a depositor had brought his money to the bank to be added to his time deposit or savings account, he could no longer use it as money. It would now belong to the bank, which could lend it out as its own money, while the depositor would hold a claim against the bank. The amount, in fact, ought no longer to be called a “deposit”. Actually it would be a loan to the bank.

Now let us see how, under the 100% system, the banks would be able to make loans, even though they could no longer use their customers’ demand deposits for that purpose.

There would be three sources of loanable funds. The first would be in the repayments to the banks of existing loans of circulating medium largely created by the banks in the past. Such repayments would release to the banks more cash than they would need to maintain 100% reserve behind demand deposits; and this “free” cash they would be able to lend out again. The banks would, therefore, suffer no contraction in their present volume of loans…..

The second sources of loans would be the banks own funds, capital, surplus, and undivided profits which might be increased from time to time by the sale of new bank stock.

The third source of loans would be new savings “deposited” in savings accounts or otherwise borrowed by the banks. That is, the banks would accept as time or savings deposits the savings of the community and lend such funds out again to those who could put them to advantageous use. In this manner, the banks might add without restraint to their savings, or time, deposits, but not to the total of their demand deposits and cash.

However, there would, of course, be a continuous moving of demand deposits from one bank to another, from one depositor to another and from demand deposits into cash and vice versa. To increase the total circulating medium would, nevertheless be the function of the Monetary Authority exclusively.

via A Program For Monetary Reform (pdf)

  1. Demand deposits are bank deposits, such as checking accounts, payable on demand. Savings or time deposits are payable on maturity. An easy way to separate demand from savings/time deposits is to class any deposit that matures within 30 days as a demand deposit.