When it comes to the real measure of a nation’s economic output, one can rely on “flexible”, constantly changing definitions of what constitutes the creation of “goods and services” as well as transactions thereof, goalseeked to meet the propaganda of constant growth no matter what (and which it appears will now, arbitrarily, include intangibles such as iTunes), or one can go to the very core of “growth” (just ask the anti-Austerians for whom debt and growth are interchangeable) which is and has always been a reflection of the increase (or decrease) in broad and narrow liquidity or money supply, which in turn means how much money is created through loans, either via commercial banks or the central monetary authority, also known as the Federal Reserve.
This is best shown by the following chart which shows the near unity (on the same axis) between US GDP and total liabilities in the US commercial banking system (traditionally the primary source of loan creation) as reported quarterly by the Fed’s Flow of Funds statement (combining statements L.110, L.111 and L.112)
The chart above implies one simple thing: if there is loan creation, and thus injection of liquidity in the system, there is growth. If there is no liquidity injection, there is no growth, at least growth as defined by GDP-tracking economists.
And here we run into the problem.
A quick look at just loan and lease creation in the US commercial bank system reveals something very troubling: at $7.290 trillion as of the week of April 17 (a decline of $12 billion from the week before) there has been exactly zero loan creation in the US commercial bank sector, conventionally the primary locus where money demand translates into new loans as the Fed itself defines it in Modern Money Mechanics: A Workbook on Bank Reserves and Deposit Expansion, since the failure of Lehman brothers. Specifically, in October 200/ total loans and leases outstanding in the US were $7.323 trillion. This means that loans, historically the biggest asset on bank balance sheets by far and whose matched liability is deposits, have been responsible for negative $30 billion in GDP growth in the past five years (source).
And yet, as the first chart above shows, total US bank liabilities have grown by $1.6 trillion since the failure of Lehman (from $13.6 trilion at December 2008 to $15.3 trillion as of the end of 2012) which means bank assets have also grown by a comparable amount, resulting in a matched GDP growth of roughly $2 trillion. How is this possible if commercial bank loan creation has been dormant at best, and in reality – negative, and no incremental matched liabilities could have possibly been created?
Simple: Presenting “Exhibit A” – the Federal Reserve, which has created $1.8 trillion in incremental reserves since the failure of Lehman, bringing its total balance sheet to $3.3 trillion.
The chart above shows that far more than merely goosing the market to record levels based on nothing but hot potato chasing by Primary Dealers loaded to the gills with record liquidity, and momentum-escalating High Frequency Trading algorithms, the Fed’s “out of thin air” created excess reserves (a liability for the Fed) have come home to roost on the balance sheets of banks in the US (including foreign banks operating in the US) as positive carry (at the IOER rate) assets.
It also means that the Fed’s excess liquidity, at least from an accounting identity standpoint, has manifested itself purely in the form of consumer and corporate deposits held at US banks ($9.351 trillion as of April 17), which as the chart below shows, used to track loans on a one to one basis, until QE started, and have since then surpassed total loans by just about the amount that the Fed has injected into the system.
Of course, the sad reality of what happens to the economy when the Fed pushes not only reserves into banks, but forces “deposits” into the hands of consumers and corporations, is precisely the one we have witnessed for the past four years: no real growth apart from the propaganda, with occasional spurts of growth driven by confusing the surge in the stock market (which is more than happy to absorb the record liquidity and where JPM and other banks use the excess deposits over loans to buy stocks and other risk assets) with a push higher in the economy. In the meantime, the middle class evisceration continues, the real unemployment is 11.6% or unchanged since 2009, US households on foodstamps are at a new record high every month, core CapEx spending is imploding to a pace not seen since 2008, corporate earnings and revenues are stagnant at best, while companies continue to get stigmatized for daring to keep excess cash on their books instead of investing it (that the rate of return on such “investments” would be negative according to the corporate executives themselves is apparently entirely lost on the propaganda media and political talking point pundits).
But at least the S&P is at record highs, and corporate and sovereign yields are at record lows.
Sadly, since there never is a free lunch, what the above data tells us is that due to the persistent refusal of banks to take over from the Fed as lender (and money creator) of main resort over four years into the “recovery”, that $2 trillion of the $16 trillion in US GDP is now held hostage by the Fed. In other words, if it wasn’t for the Fed’s “narrow liquidity“, “low power money“, whatever one wants to call it, creation, US GDP would be 12% lower, or at June 2007 levels. It also means that virtually every incremental dollar of US GDP “growth” comes solely courtesy of Ben Bernanke’s narrow money spigot.
And since the US has to “grow”, since US GDP has to be spoonfed to the masses as increasing at a ~1.5% annualized rate every quarter, and since US banks continue to not lend (and in fact their eagerness to not lend is further cemented by the far easier returns they can generate courtesy of the Fed in chasing stocks, and not take on NPL risk in exchange for meager 4-5% annual returns, which means a feedback loop is created where more QE means less bank lending means more QE means less bank lending), can all trivial and absolutely meaningless discussion over whether the Fed will halt QE (now or ever) finally end? It absolutely never will, until everything one day comes crashing down.