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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bernanke has been printing money like crazy, yet prices haven't gone up. Why not?

Since the start of the present financial crisis, the Federal Reserve has implemented extraordinary programs to rescue large institutions from the horrible investments they made during the bubble years. Because of these programs, the Fed’s balance sheet more than doubled from September 2008 to the end of the year, as Bernanke acquired more than a trillion dollars in new holdings in just a few months.

If Bernanke has been so aggressive in creating new money, why haven’t prices skyrocketed at the grocery store? The answer is that banks have chosen to let their reserves with the Fed grow well above the legal minimum. In other words, banks have the legal ability to make new loans to customers, but for various reasons they are choosing not to do so. This chart from the Federal Reserve shows these “excess reserves” in their historical context.

U.S. depository institutions have typically lent out their excess reserves in order to earn interest from their customers. Yet currently the banks are sitting on some $850 billion in excess reserves, because (a) the Fed began paying interest on reserves in October 2008, and (b) the economic outlook is so uncertain that financial institutions wish to remain extremely liquid.

The chart explains why Faber and others are warning about massive price inflation. If and when the banks begin lending out their excess reserves, they will have the legal ability to create up to $8.5 trillion in new money. To understand how significant that number is, consider that right now the monetary aggregate M1—which includes physical currency, traveler’s checks, checking accounts, and other very liquid assets—is a mere $1.7 trillion.
-- from "Killing the Currency" by Robert P. Murphy.

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