Asset prices rise when there is more money in the system, but you have to understand what ‘money’ is. M1/M2 is not a good measure as it is heavily influenced by Fed policy, which changes the composition of money rather than the overall quantity (see here for a walkthrough). The vast majority of money we come in contact with are bank deposits (the numbers in your bank account). Bank deposits are created by commercial banks when they either make loans or purchase assets. For the institutional investor, Treasuries are money – risk free, highly liquid, and fairly stable in value. Big money cannot just deposit billions at a bank and take unsecured credit risk. Treasuries are created when the Federal Government (“FedGov”) spends more than it receives in taxes. In essence, FedGov has a money printer and pays for its spending by printing Treasuries (see here). In this post, I briefly recap the moneyness of Treasuries, introduce a real time measure of FedGov printing, and explore asset price implications of the recent surge in spending.
There are a few forms of money in the modern financial system, but not all of them are well known. We all know about currency (paper bills) and bank deposits (the numbers in your checking account). If you reading this blog then you also know about central bank reserves (money commercial banks use to pay each other). These are assets that are considered money in large part because they are both risk free and highly liquid. However, they cannot be used as money by institutional investors or the very rich. A big investment fund would not put stacks of $100 bills in the office, nor place huge sums in a bank account (bank deposits are only guaranteed by the government up to $250,000), and is ineligible to hold central bank reserves. When big money looks for safety and liquidity, they look at U.S. Treasuries. In the modern financial system, Treasuries are money.
In this post I will discuss the structural features of the Treasury market that allow it to become money, how the U.S. Treasury became the biggest printer in town, and what this means for economic growth.