Monday, April 2, 2012

The Slowing Velocity of Money - What Is It Telling Us?

July 2014

For your information, there is an up-to-date posting on the velocity of money located here.

There is a relatively little discussion about one particular parameter of the economy, the velocity of money.  As you will see in this posting, recent changes in the velocity of money may be a harbinger of things to come for the economy.

Let's start with a bit of background information and some definitions.  The velocity of money, according to the Federal Reserve, is a ratio of the nominal (before inflation adjustments) GDP to a given measure of the supply of money, either M1 or M2.  WTF?   

Here are a couple of definitions that might help.  First, M1 is the most liquid measure of the money supply and includes all physical money including coins and currency plus demand deposits (chequing accounts); basically money that is available immediately.  Second, M2 includes the aforementioned components of M1 plus money market funds, savings deposits and all time-related deposits.  

Now, let's go back to the velocity of money.  Putting Fedspeak into terms that mere mortals can understand, the velocity of money can be thought of as how often the money supply "turns over" or the number of times a single dollar is used to purchase the goods and services that comprise the GDP in a given period of time.  The velocity of money can also be thought of as the average frequency with which a unit of money is spent or how many times a given dollar bill is spent by all of the consumers that spend it as it works its way through the American economy in a given period of time.

Here's an example to make the concept easier to understand:

I earn $500.  I take that $500 and buy a plasma television from you.  In turn, you take the $500 and buy an iPad from someone else who then takes the $500 and buys a week's worth of groceries.  We have now turned over the original $500 three times and the result is $1500 of "GDP" and, since the $500 was spent three times, the velocity of the money is 3.0.  Stepping back to the entire economy, GDP is basically a function of the velocity of money; the more times a given dollar is spent, the faster the economy grows and the higher the resulting GDP.   When the velocity of money is high, the supply of money needed to keep the economy working is relatively low compared to periods where consumers are not spending as much and the velocity is very low.  If the value of money is low, prices are high and a larger supply of money is necessary to fund purchases.  If the supply of money is constant and prices are high, velocity must increase to fund purchases.  Similarly, when the supply of money is changed by the Federal Reserve, it will impact the velocity of money.  Basically, for a given level of GDP, a smaller money supply will result in increased velocity since each dollar must change hands more often to facilitate spending and vice versa.

Why would the velocity of money slow?  It can do so for a couple of reasons.  First, the velocity of money will slow in times of deflation when a contraction in the amount of money in circulation declines, resulting in lower prices.  Secondly, the velocity of money will slow during a recession as consumers decide to hold onto their cash rather than spend it on new televisions, cars, refrigerators and iPads. Thirdly, the velocity of money can slow because of the accumulation of debt in the economy.  This is most apparent in the accumulation of government debt; since one of the factors making up GDP is government spending as shown in this formula:

GDP = C + I + G + (X-M)


C = Consumer Spending
I = Gross Investment
G = Government Spending
X-M = Exports - Imports or Net Exports

Government spending or "G" is an important part of GDP meaning that growth in government spending is an important part of GDP growth.  Unfortunately, in today's reality, government spending grows through the use of increasing levels of debt, a factor that actually slows the velocity of money.  Just for fun, here's what total federal government spending has looked like over the past six decades, showing how its growth has become nearly exponential:

With GDP hovering around $15 trillion and federal government spending at roughly $3.75 trillion,  government spending makes up around 25 percent of GDP.  This tells us how massive the impact of reduced government spending will be on GDP growth.

Now, let's look at what has happened to the velocity of money over the past few decades and its relationship to recessions starting with M1 followed by M2.  Note that the velocity of M2 has dropped to lows not seen since the early 1960s.

Here is a look at the growth in M1:

Here is a look at the growth in M2:

Notice that the growth in M1, in particular, has become nearly exponential with a very steep growth rate in M2 as Mr. Bernanke had the Federal Reserve "printing presses" working overtime during and after the Great Recession.  

Now let's look at the velocity of money and the growth in the supply of money from Helicopter Ben in combination.  Basically, the Federal Reserve is pumping money into the economy but the velocity of money is dropping and approaching or passing fifty year lows.  This could suggest that the Fed's actions simply are not spurring economic activity despite recent growth in GDP (which could be a result of government spending increases).  Is it possible that the economy has entered a liquidity trap where nominal interest rates are basically zero and increasing the supply of money has no impact on the economy, rendering monetary policy by central banks completely ineffective?  In this state, low interest rates do not result in a state of full employment and consumers are not interested in consuming more.  As well, increased injections of money cannot push interest rates any lower since they are already basically zero.

At the very least, I would suggest that the rather dramatic drop in the velocity of money signals that there is looming change in the economy.  Only time will tell whether carnage or better times lie ahead.


  1. carnage or better times - I know where my money would go. That is what all the expenditure on beefed up "anti-terrorist" security is for.

    1. APj:
      I am making a copy of this article, and keep it to show to others who are interested in this topic.
      I would think turnover of money would be similar to turnover of items in a grocery store.
      Those with "small" turnover tend to be discontinued items.
      Don Levit

    2. APJ:
      In trying to copy the article, even with highlighting everything, I cannot get past "If the value of money is low, prices are high and a larger supply of money is necessary to fund purchases. If
      Can you help me out?
      Don Levit

    3. Don,

      I tried this morning and there was no problem getting everything but the charts. Do you have Safari? If so, you could try using Reader and then copy from there.

      Let me know if that works.

  2. I don't know whether you keep up with him, but Paul Mason over at the BBC wrote an interesting article about "Repressionomics"

    What are your thoughts on it?

  3. So, wouldn't the best way to create turnover in money be to increase taxes on the wealthy, or better yet, implement a wealth tax? Over the past 30 years, so much money has trickled (or recently flowed) up to the wealthy, that there is little more that they can do but accumulate it....certainly when so much money is flowing into things like gold, it is not being spent on capital, etc. While conservatives point out that a 5% increase on the top 5% income earners would not make much of a dent in the federal debt, what the fail to realize is the ripple effect that would be created as the government spent that 5% on infrastructure projects, etc. Not only would the money be turned over numerous times, but at each turnover it would be taxed bringing in more revenue (which itself would not lower the deficit, but it would blunt its continued rise and create jobs).

    1. first time I agree with taxing the wealthy however I suspect the rich will avoid them because they managed to get all the loopholes into the new laws. I am also suspicious of how the left defines rich and wealth. Lastly I would like the money spent on things that actually build wealth and the Govt is not very good at doing that.

    2. Why? So our corrupt government can spend it on bullshit? Yeah right...

  4. Long bonds in the 60's were lower then today,something to think about? Will the Gov. do a number on gold? Will they get a handle on Gov. spending? Will they change the tax code to get Corp's to spend money?

  5. Hi, You are right to be concerned. If velocity falls without an increase in money supply by definition prices must fall. Since the Fed has increased the money supply prices have been stable to slightly rising except for commodities whose prices are rising faster and are determined on world markets and whose supply is highly fungible.

  6. When people sell homes at a loss or take bankruptcy, the "money" disappears, right? Of course, inflation is making the remaining assets worth less. Bad news all the way around, it seems. I'm betting on carnage, when the day comes that working people figure it out.

  7. When people sell an asset at a loss "money" disappears? No. Wealth declines for the individual and if there is a mortgage and the house is worth less than the mortgage the homeowner is still on the hook for the difference in most states that is why people just walk away or allow foreclosure to take place. The bank still owns an inocme producing asset that is just worth less. No money was destroyed just wealth.

    The net worth of households is about 4 times the M2 measure of money supply. If net worth increases or decreases money supply is not affected.

  8. As a dumb Econ major, the charts tell me there's way too much money supply that isn't
    being used. That's all. As a result good money is chasing bad money around the globe and that ain't healthy. The best example is Facebook. The second is JP Morgan's hunt for profit in derivatives. If anything is looming, it's a huge defeat for the democrats who understand the problem but don't want to budge off spending.

  9. Vt (demand deposit turnover) is at or close to its highest roc ever.

    Vi income velocity is a contrived figure.

  10. "the velocity of money can slow because of the accumulation of debt in the economy". "government spending grows through the use of increasing levels of debt, a factor that actually slows the velocity of money". Could you please elaborate a bit more on this? From what I understood if Government is going to increase Government Spending it should issue new debt to be placed on the market. This will lead to liquidity being drained away from the market and, as a matter of fact, a reduction in M2. With higher GDP (through higher G) and lower M2 therefore velocity would increase not decline. Where am I wrong? Thank you.