The markets are closed today in the United States, in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but the government’s printing presses never take a holiday. In fact, the Federal Reserve has been spitting out dollars at an annual pace not seen since in nearly two years.
M2 money supply advanced by 5.6% for the past 52 weeks through January 1, 2007, according to Fed data. That’s the fastest rate of increase for 52 weeks since February 7, 2005. Calculated on a 10-week basis, M2’s pace isn’t quite a strong relative to recent history, but it’s clearly taken flight and is just a shade under the previous 10-week peak of 2.4% set back in May 2003.
No matter how you slice it, money supply is growing at an accelerating pace these days. The optimistic interpretation is that the trend is as it should be. The economy has been holding up better than anticipated and so more money is needed to grease the growth. But let’s not go overboard with the definition of growth. GDP, at last count, was expanding by an inflation-adjusted 2.0% a year in the third quarter, down from 2.6% in the second quarter. No, the economy’s not about to stumble into recession, but neither is it about to surge.
Inflation, meanwhile, is looking more cooperative, at least from a top-line perspective. But the jury’s still out on whether anxiety’s still warranted for core inflation (which the Fed watches like a hawk, or dove, depending on your perspective). Consumer prices less food and energy advanced by 2.6% for the year last November, a pace that’s close the highest logged so far in the 21st century.
Thus, the question du jour: Should M2 money supply be growing at an annual pace that’s nearly triple the rate of GDP growth and more than twice the annual rate of increase in core inflation? An answer may avail itself later this week, when the Labor Department releases the inflation update for December. In the meantime, we can gaze at the money supply trend and wonder if it’ll continue and if such things still have relevance in the 21st century.