Why Savings Account Boom?

Tyler Durden at ZeroHedge blog asks “Is the largest weekly inflow into bank savings accounts on record a flashing red alarm?”

It’s an interesting question and you have to ask what’s going on? Here’s what he sees:

When one thinks of America, the word “savings” is likely the last thing to come into a person’s head, for the simple reason that the vast majority of Americans don’t save: recall that in September the personal savings rate dipped to 3.3%, the lowest since 2009 save for one month.

On the surface this makes sense: the average US consumer, tapped out, with more spending than income, has no choice but to max out their credit card, and eat into whatever savings they may have.

This is usually as far as most contemplations on savings go. And this is a mistake, because at least according to official Fed data reported weekly … the real story with US savings is something totally different…

Recall that the primary definition of a savings account is, naturally, an amount of cash parked with an institution for a longer period of time, in exchange for receiving interest (or no interest in the era of The Great Chairman), which also have a limitation on the number of withdrawals: six per month at last check. Savings accounts also encompass the broader Money Market account category, which has a higher floor requirement than an ordinary savings account.

At first blush one would balk at the concept of a Savings Account in the New Normal: after all who in their right mind would face the counterparty risk associated with having money in a bank, especially money that has withdrawal limitations, if there is nothing to be gained in exchange, because under ZIRP nobody collects any interest, and won’t until the system finally collapses.

Well prepare to be surprised.

Total Savings Deposits at Commercial Banks, which at $5.6 trillion in the week ended November 5, 2012, is also the largest single component of M2, and thus broader money stock of the US (accessible source data via the St Louis Fed).

… the historic rate of growth in this category of about $200 billion per year, aka the “pre-New Normal” regime, nearly quadrupled to just shy of $700 billion, with a distinct break when Lehman failed aka the “post-New Normal”. That’s $700 billion per year entering what the Fed defines as a “Savings Account.” And all it took to get everyone to scramble to the uncompensated safety of savings accounts? A near collapse of the entire financial system!

What has been unsaid so far, is that to Ben Bernanke and the champions of the status quo, money in Savings Accounts would be far better used if it were to be dumped into stocks. After all, the primary reason for the urge by the Group of 30, Tim Geithner, Bernanke and the SEC to crush money markets and to make them even more uneconomical is to pull all the cash contained there and to have it invested into bonds, stocks, and other risky products.

In summary, the more money allocated to Savings Accounts, the more Bernanke’s attempts to rekindle the “animal spirits” fail. And while this cash is at least on the surface what is known as “money on the sidelines”, the flipside also is that should this money ever leave the “sidelines”, modestly at first, then all at once, then the Fed’s moment of reckoning will come, as that will be the moment when the Fed’s ability to keep inflation grounded in “15 minutes” or less, will be thoroughly tested.

Paradoxically, Bernanke wants this money to re-enter the risk markets, and/or the economy, but not in a way that leads to hyperinflation. After all there is $10 trillion in electronic “money” in the US system, and only $1 trillion in cold, hard cash available for cash claims satisfaction.

All that brings us to the topic of today’s post: weekly changes in the amount of cash held in Savings Deposits at Commercial Banks. … rapid, dramatic shifts, characterized by massive inflows of cash into such savings accounts usually coincide with times of great monetary stress: the three biggest episodes in history to date have been the 2008 Lehman failure, the August 2011 Debt Ceiling Crisis and associated US downgrade, and the May 2009 First Greek failure and bailout.

Those three episodes represent the biggest weekly Savings Deposits inflows number 2 through 4.

When was the largest ever inflow into Savings Deposits at Commercial banks, at $131.9 billion in one week? This past week.

We don’t know, but the people who control $5.6 trillion in US commercial bank savings deposits – certainly not the vast majority of the US population who have virtually no money saved up, but the true 1% – just decided to park the most cash on a week over week basis into their savings accounts in history.

Perhaps ask them why they did it…

Some suggests people are parking their severance checks in the bank. Others say people are exiting stocks to avoid the capital gains tax.

Whatever the reason, money is not being used to invest in future businesses or services. No one feels confident about this economy.

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