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…And What if That Mountain of Money Starts Churning?

CAMS Weekly View from the Corner – Week ending 4/30/21

May 3, 2021

Throughout our 2021 editions we have shared, as a specific topic or as an occasional aside, the view of price pressures. Our focus of sharing those pricing views had been centered on a forward looking view. A couple of editions ago I shared a personal observation in how many “board stories” were being shared with me within general conversation. Those experiences were specific to the prices of wood and related products. Here today I’ll include yet another personal observation from happenstance conversations on prices more generally with the operative word being “generally.” I have been surprised at how general pricing is entered into conversation, not as a topic but as a recognized fact that needs no preamble or explanation. The acknowledgement of such usually unfolds mid-sentence “………and with prices as they are….….” without further discussion. For my part, I often respond mentally with “……and there it is…….” circling back to our previous forward views playing out in current day. The forward view has arrived with the obvious logical consideration of what’s next? Post conversation, I have a consistent contemplative thought “……and what if that mountain of money starts churning……..” speaking to the “what’s next” part of the contemplative topic. The Mountain of Money From the spring of 2020 up to current day the government has initiated numerous free money programs to the tune of trillions of dollars. This has turned into a mountain of available cash within the citizenry.

The above is a ten year chart of demand deposits held at all commercial banks.  Demand deposits are typically savings and checking accounts featuring anytime withdrawal, without notice, by depositors.    The red arrow highlights the growth of demand deposits in the previous year at all commercial banks.  This amounts to an increase from the spring of 2020 to current day of $2.2 Trillion dollars – not a typo. One year ago these stood at $1.6 Trillion and now stand at $3.8 Trillion.  This equals nearly $4 Trillion of demand deposits in total that can be taken out and used without notice.  If that mountain of cash starts churning out in society rather than being tucked away in banking institutions we suspect casual conversations about prices may not be so casual. Mountain of Money Chasing Crashing Productivity If our referenced mountain of money came to be from a massive increase in the production of goods and services with a simultaneous tremendous increase in efficiency of producing those goods and services (a.k.a. productivity) then said mountain would be of little concern from a price inflation perspective. Sadly, that is not the case as we all know.  The mountain of cash has by-and-large come via the printing press and government debt funding free money programs without corresponding production.  From a forward view, price inflation nightmare scenario, our broad economic backdrop can be succinctly summed up as a mountain of money chasing crashing productivity.  As stated, if that money starts “chasing” rather than “sitting” then prices throughout society will be escalating rapidly from here. The Federal Reserve This past week the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) met for their regularly scheduled interest rate policy and money printing meeting.  In a nutshell they stated there is nothing to see here folks – move along – go on home. More specific, Chairman Powell stated these “one-time increases in prices are likely to only have transitory effects on inflation.” In addition, the FOMC concluded they will continue to add to their balance sheet (print money) at an on-going rate of $120 Billion per month, just as they had been doing. Chairman Powell’s quote above included two key words that cannot be more subjective:  “likely” and “transitory.” “Likely” speaks for itself in that such a word is certainly not reassuring that prices will be heading back down imminently.  “Transitory” is completely relative to the amount of time a person is referencing.  This is not being esoteric relative to FED-speak (picking apart every word of Federal Reserve comments) but rather focuses on the citizenry at large and the economic backdrop. If the transitory inflationary period lasts one, two or three years of an overall ten year time period those three years can be considered transitory when viewed through the rearview mirror of that ten year period.  With this, even if transitory through the lens of the larger time-frame, it is not to say it was not painful living through it for society as a whole. It sort of feels like the Federal Reserve specifically and policymakers generally have a tiger by the tail but keep insisting that it is a friendly cat.  If they lose control of said “cat” then the citizenry will be paying the price with lower standards of living via much higher prices.  Yet again, as wise elders have always told us – there is no such thing as free money.  In our collective cases, our cost is and will be showing up in prices.  Prices, by-the-way, is one of the central tenets of the Federal Reserve’s focus.  Let’s hope “likely” turns out to be accurate in a near-term sense with near-term being weeks-to-months not months-to-years. I wish you well…

Ken Reinhart

Director, Market Research & Portfolio Analysis

Footnote:

H&UP’s is a quick summation of a rating system for SPX9 (abbreviation encompassing 9 Sectors of the S&P 500 with 107 sub-groups within those 9 sectors) that quickly references the percentage that is deemed healthy and higher (H&UP). This comes from the proprietary “V-NN” ranking system that is composed of 4 ratings which are “V-H-N-or NN”. A “V” or an “H” is a positive or constructive rank for said sector or sub-group within the sectors.

This commentary is presented only to provide perspectives on investment strategies and opportunities. The material contains opinions of the author, which are subject to markets change without notice. Statements concerning financial market trends are based on current market conditions which fluctuate. References to specific securities and issuers are for descriptive purposes only and are not intended to be, and should not be interpreted as, recommendations to purchase or sell such securities. There is no guarantee that any investment strategy will work under all market conditions. Each investor should evaluate their ability to invest for the long-term, especially during periods of downturn in the market. PERFORMANCE IS NOT GUARANTEED AND LOSSES CAN OCCUR WITH ANY INVESTMENT STRATEGY.

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