We interrupt our regularly scheduled obsession with this afternoon’s Fed announcement with an observation about the supply of dollars as it relates to the ongoing elevation in the price of money. To cut to the chase, we can’t help but wonder if there’s a weasel in the monetary henhouse. Hey, we’ve got to do something as we wait for the non-surprise that comes later today.
What are we talking about? Just this: the rate of increase in M2 money supply has shown a tendency to ascend this year compared to 2005. There’s nothing especially intriguing about that, unless you consider that the central bank has been raising interest rates continually over that stretch. Ergo, what’s wrong with this picture? Namely, a rising Fed funds without a corresponding decrease in money supply.
Indeed, the rolling 52-week change is M2 has moved higher this year relative to where it was for much of last year. The latest reading (which will be updated this afternoon, as it is every Thursday) shows M2 advancing by 4.7% over the level 52 weeks previous. That’s nothing new by 2006 standards, which has shown M2’s 52-week changes sticking mainly to increases in the 4.5%-5.0% range.
The plot thickens, however, if you compare this year’s range to last year’s. In particular, from May 2005 to the end of the year, the span of M2’s rolling 52-week changes generally remained within the boundaries of 3%-to-4% ascents.
Perhaps the mismatch between this year and last is merely a technical hiccup, with no larger significance other than showing the machinations that accompany the business of manipulating, er, managing the money supply in the world’s largest economy.
Then again, maybe not. We say “maybe not” in light of the large and growing pressures that rest on the American government to spend more than it takes in over time. Deficits, in other words, lurk within the financial system, driven by such budgetary perennials as Medicare and Social Security.
Yes, the jury’s still out on how and when the associated deficits manifest themselves in altered fiscal and monetary policies than prudence otherwise dictates. Meanwhile, it helps to believe something’s askew if you’ve got a touch of the conspiracy theorist in you. (For those needing some help on this front, a quick reading of The Da Vinci Code might help stir those juices, even if the fiction in this case overwhelms the factual. But we digress.)
In the meantime, the Fed will keep changing the price of money while adjusting its supply. Over time, the two are intimately connected. In the short term, the connection can be tenuous and even contradictory. Such is the nature of reading long-term trends from short-term observations. Of course, occasionally the short-term contradictions offer early clues about changes in long-term policy. Deciding what prevails at the moment amounts to the art of observation. This, then, dear readers, is the golden age of observation in Fed matters.
With that, we now return you to our regularly scheduled Fed-watching program….