"Economists are pessimists: they've predicted 8 of the last 3 depressions."
--Barry Asmus

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Friday, December 31, 2010

Farm Prices, Farm Costs, and the Money Supply

Internationally and here in the states, there are no economic measures due to be reported. None. Zip. Nada. There are a few items from yesterday,though.
The Agricultural Prices report was released yesterday, falling unperceived and uncared for on the ears of the market. The All Farm Products Index of Prices Received by Farmers was up 0.6% in December (up 19% for the year), with the Crop Index up 1.1% and the Livestock Index down 0.7%. Meanwhile, the December Index of Prices Paid for Commodities and Services, Interest, Taxes, and Farm Wage Rates[1], which tracks changes in the costs of farmers, was up 1.6% in December and 7.3% for the year. There's a lot of data in the report, showing that you can expect to continue to pay more for your food in 2011 than you did in 2010, but who cares? That's all irrelevant noise, wisely ignored by those who calculate inflation[2].
Does anyone remember "Big" Ben Bernanke's December 5th interview with 60 Minutes? If so, do you remember him saying this: "One myth that's out there is that what we're doing is printing money. We're not printing money. the amount of currency in circulation is not changing. The money supply is not changing in any significant way." Well, the Federal Reserve's Money Stock Measures report came out yesterday. It shows a 2.9% increase in M1 money supply[3] from October to November (a 9% increase from January), and a 0.4% increase in M2[4] from October to November (a 3.7% increase from January).
Technically, "Big" Ben is probably right. The Fed probably isn't working the presses and generating more physical currency. But, through the magic of fractional-reserve banking, the Fed doesn't have to print physical money to increase the money supply by 2.9% in one month.
Oh, and that 9% increase in M1 in 11 months? That's pretty much the reason people are concerned about inflation.
[1] This has the helpful acronym "PPITW".
[2] If it's not core to inflation, it does it really impact your pocketbook?
[3] That's currency in circulation plus traveler's checks in circulation plus demand deposits plus other checkable deposits.
[4] That's M1 plus savings deposits plus time deposits less than $100,000 plus money-market deposit accounts for individuals.

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