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The (Divisia) money trail – a very bullish UK story

Recently, the data for the UK economy has been very strong, and it is very clear that the UK economy is in recovery. So what is the reason? Well, you guessed it – monetary policy.

I think it is fairly easy to understand this recovery if we follow the money trail. It is a story about how UK households are reducing precautionary cash holdings (in long-term time deposits) because they no longer fear a deflationary scenario for the British economy and, that is due to the shift in UK monetary policy that basically started with the Bank of England’s second round of quantitative easing being initiated in October 2011.

The graphs below I think tells most of the story.

Lets start out with a series for growth of the Divisia Money Supply in the UK.

Divisia Money UK

Take a look at the pick-up in Divisia Money growth from around October 2011 and all through 2012 and 2013.

Historically, UK Divisia Money has been a quite strong leading indicator for UK nominal GDP growth so the sharp pick-up in Divisia Money growth is an indication of a future pick-up in NGDP growth. In fact recently, actual NGDP growth has picked up substantially, and other indicators show that the pick-up is continuing.

If you don’t believe me on the correlation between UK Divisia Money growth and NGDP growth, then take a look at this very informative blog post by Duncan Brown, who has done the econometrics to demonstrate the correlation between Divisia (and Broad) Money and NGDP growth in the UK.

Shifting money

So what caused Divisia Money growth to pick-up like this? Well, as I indicated, above the pick-up has coincided with a major movement of money in the UK economy – from less liquid time deposits to more liquid readably available short-term deposits. The graph below shows this.

Deposits UK

So here is the story as I see it.

In October 2011 (A:QE in the chart), the Bank of England restarts its quantitative easing program in response the escalating euro crisis. The BoE then steps up quantitative easing in both February 2012 (B: QE) and in July 2012 (C: QE). This I believe had two impacts.

First of all, it reduced deflationary fears in the UK economy, and as a result households moved to reduced their precautionary holdings of cash in higher-yielding time deposits. This is the drop in time deposits we are starting to see in the Autumn of 2011.

Second, there is a hot potato effect. As the Bank of England is buying assets, banks and financial institutions’ holdings of cash increase. As liquidity is now readily available to these institutions, they no longer to the same extent as earlier need to get liquidity from the household sector, and therefore they become less willing to accept time deposits than before.

Furthermore, it should be noted that in December 2012, the ECB started its so-called Long-Term Refinancing Operation (LTRO), which also made euro liquidity available to UK financial institutions. This further dramatically helped the liquidity situation for UK financial institutions.

Hence, we are seeing both a push and pull effect on the households’ time deposits. The net result has been a marked drop in time deposits and a similar increase in instant access deposits. I believe it has been equally important that there has been a marked shift in expectations about UK monetary policy with the appointment of Mark Carney in December 2012 (D: Carney).

Mark Carney’s hints – also in December 2012 – that he could favour NGDP targeting also helped send the signal that more monetary easing would be forthcoming if needed, as did the introduction of more clear forward guidance in August 2013 (E: ‘Carney Rule’). In addition to that, the general global easing of monetary conditions on the back of the Federal Reserve’s introduction of the Evans rule in September 2012 and the Bank of Japan’s aggressive measures to hit it new 2% inflation undoubtedly have also helped ease financial conditions in Britain.

Hence, I believe the shift in UK (and global) monetary policy that started in the Autumn of 2011 is the main reason for the shift in the UK households’ behaviour over the past two years.

Monetary policy is highly potent

But you might of course say – isn’t it just money being shifted around? How is that impacting the economy? Well, here the Divisia Money concept helps us. Divisia money uses a form of aggregation of money supply components that takes this into account and weights the components of money according to their usefulness in transactions.

Hence, as short-term deposits are more liquid and hence readably available for transactions (consumption or investments) than  time deposits a shift in cash holdings from time deposits to short-term deposits will cause an increase in the Divisia Money supply. This is exactly what we have seen in the UK over the past two years.

And since as we know that UK Divisia Money growth leads UK NGDP growth, there is good reason to expect this to continue to feed through to higher NGDP growth and higher economic activity in Britain.

Concluding, it seems rather clear that the quantitative easing implemented in 2011-12 in the UK and the change in forward guidance overall has not only increased UK money base growth, but also the much broader measures of money supply growth such as Divisia Money. This demonstrates that monetary policy is highly potent and also that expectations of future monetary policy, which helped caused this basic portfolio readjustment process, works quite well.

“Monetary” analysis based on looking at interest rates would never had uncovered this. However, a traditional monetarist analysis of money and the monetary transmission mechanism, combined with Market Monetarist insights about the importance of expectations, can fully explain why we are now seeing a fairly sharp pick-up in UK growth. Now we just need policy makers to understand this.

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Acknowledgements:

I think some acknowledgements are in place here as this blog post has been inspired by the work of a number of other monetarist and monetarists oriented economists and commentators. First of all Britmouse needs thanking for pointing me to the excellent work on the “raid” on UK households’ saving by Sky TV’s economics editor Ed Conway, who himself was inspired by Henderson Economics’ chief economist Simon Ward, who has done excellent work on the dishoarding of money in the UK. My friend professor Anthony Evans also helped altert me to what is going on in UK Divisia Money growth. Anthony himself publishes a similar data series called MA.

Second of course, a thanks to Duncan Brown for his great econometric work on the causality of Divisia Money and NGDP growth in the UK.

And finally, thanks to the godfather of Divisia Money Bill Barnett who nearly single-handledly has pushed the agenda for Divisia Money as an alternative to simple-sum monetary aggregates for decades. In recent years, he has been helped by Josh Hendrickson and Mike Belongia who has done very interesting empirical work on Divisia Money.

For a very recent blog post on Divisia Money, see this excellent piece by JP Koning.

And while you are at it, you might as well buy Bill Barnett’s excellent book “Getting It Wrong” about “how faulty monetary statistics undermine the Fed, the financial system and the economy”.

 

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The Austrian bust: HIGHER inflation and relative deflation

I have been thinking about an issue that puzzles me – it is about inflation in an Austrian School style bust.

Here is the story. If we think about a stylized Austrian school boom-bust then the story more or less is that easy money leads to an unsustainable boom that eventually – for some reason – will lead to a bust.

What people often fail to realize is that the Austrian business cycle theory basically is a supply side story.

Austrians will hate it, but you can tell much of the story within an AS/AD framework. The graph below is an illustration of this.

AS AD - AS shift rightwards

What happens is that the central bank cuts interest rates below the Wicksellian natural interest rate. Investors are tricked into thinking that it is the natural interest rates that has fallen and as a result investments are increased. Austrians will of course object by saying “it is not a overinvestment theory, but a malinvestment theory”. Yes, that is right, but that is not relevant for the question I want to look at here.

The boom happens not because of higher demand, but because of over (and mal) investment. The production capacity of the economy is hence expanded – the AS curve shifts to the right during the Austrian boom and production increases from Y1 to Y2. We ignore the demand effects – so we keep the AD unchanged – as the Austrians really are not paying much attention to this part of the story anyway (and yes, I am aware the there is relative demand story – private consumption vs investments).

Notice what happens with the price level initially. Prices drop from P1 to P2. Obviously that would not necessarily have to be the case if the AD curve also have shifted to the right as well (but that is not important for the story here). However, this pretty well illustrates the Austrian story that “headline” inflation will not necessarily increase during the boom. What happens – and we can obviously not realize that by just looking at AD and AS curves – is that we get what Austrians call relative inflation. Some prices rise, but the aggregate price level does not necessarily increase.

So far so good. I know Austrian economists would say that I told the story in the “wrong way”, but I guess they will agree on the main points – Austrian Business Cycle Theory is mostly about the supply side of the economy and that the aggregate price level will not necessarily have to increase during the boom phase.

Now we turn to the bust phase…

At some point investors realise that they have made a mistake – the natural interest rate has not really dropped. Therefore, what they thought were good and profitable investments are not really that great. So as a result investors cut back investments – after the “bubble” have bursted a large part of the production capacity in the economy is worthless. This is a negative supply shock! The AS shift back leftwards.

AS AD - AS shift leftwards

What is the result of this? Well, it is simple – the price level increases from P2 to P1. We get higher inflation. This might seem counterintuitive to most people – that the bust leads to higher rather lower inflation – but remember this is due fact that the Austrian boom-bust cycle primarily is a supply side story.

‘Benign’ inflation should be welcomed

And this brings me to what I really wanted to say. An increase inflation should be welcomed if it reflects a rational and undistorted reaction to investors realising that they have made a mistake. That is exactly what happens in an Austrian style bust. We might get relative deflation/disinflation, but the aggregate price level increases due to the negative supply shock.

Therefore, when Austrians often argue that the bust should be allowed to play out without any interference from the government or the central bank then that logically mean that they should welcome an increase in inflation in the bust phase of the business cycle. That obvious is not that same saying that monetary policy should be eased in the bust phase, but inflation should nonetheless be allowed to increase as we get “benign” inflation.

However, in my view that would mean that it would be wrong from an Austrian perspective for the central bank to tighten monetary policy in response to rise in (supply) inflation during the bust. Those Austrian economists who favour NGDP level targeting – like Anthony Evans and Steve Horwitz – would likely agree, but what about the “internet Austrian”? And what about Bob Murphy or Joe Salerno?

Obviously the story I have told above is a caricature of the Austrian Business Cycle theory, but I think there is a relevant discussion here that need to be addressed. Is the aggregate price level likely to rise in the bust phase as natural consequence of market forces being allowed to run it cause?

The reason that I think this debate is important is that some Austrians spend a lot of time arguing that the deflationary tendencies that we see for example in Europe at the moment are a natural and necessary bursting and deflating of a bubble. However, IF we indeed were in the bust phase of a Austrian style business cycle then we would not be seeing deflationary tendencies. We would in fact be seeing the opposite – we would see HIGHER inflation, but at the same time relative deflation.

Obviously this is not what we are seeing in the US and Europe today – inflation in both the US and the euro zone is well-below what it was during the “boom years”. That mean that we are not in the bust phase of an Austrian style boom-bust. There might very well have been a boom-bust initially (I believe that was the case in some European countries for example), but we have long ago moved to another phase – and that is what Hayek termed secondary deflation – a downturn in the economy caused by an monetary contraction.

PS Take a look at what happened in the US in 2007-8. Overall inflation did in fact increase as the economy was slowing, while we at the same time had relative deflation in the form of falling property prices. However, starting in the Autumn of 2008 we clearly saw across the board deflationary tendencies – here it is pretty clear that we entered a secondary deflationary phase caused by a monetary contraction. This is consistent with an Austrian interpretation of the Great Recession, but it is not a story I have heard many (any??) Austrians tell. And of course it is not necessarily the story I would tell – even though I think there is a lot of truth in it.

PPS The graphs above could indicate that both production and prices shifts back to the initial starting point during the bust. That obviously would not have to be the case as I here have ignored the shift in the AD curve and as any Austrian would note the AS/AD framework is not telling us anything about relative prices.

British style Binge-drinking and QE – all we need is Chuck Norris

Here is quote of the day:

“being surprised about why QE doesn’t work when you’re trying to keep inflation expectations at 2% is like being surprised why people don’t have a party at a “free” bar if you make it clear you will remove alcohol from anyone who starts to feel drunk”.

This is Anthony Evans in City AM on Bank of England’s conduct of monetary policy. I think this is excellent – the Bank of England should call in Chuck Norris.

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