Economic “optimists” argue that UK / US recessions will be avoided because households and firms have accumulated a “war chest” of excess monetary savings that will be deployed to support spending. The assessment here is that high inflation is rapidly eroding excess money balances while households / firms are unlikely to reduce precautionary savings against a backdrop of deteriorating economic / financial conditions.

Chart 1 is a recreation of one used to support the optimistic case. The suggestion is that UK households have amassed £170 billion of excess monetary savings, equivalent to 11% of annual disposable income.

Chart 1

A statistical issue here is the reliability of a measure of “trend” calculated over just two years.

More importantly, the demand to hold money depends on a host of influences, of which the most important is the price level. Any assessment of the magnitude of excess money balances should, at a minimum, take account of inflation.

Chart 2 recasts the analysis in real terms, while calculating “trend” over a 10-year period. The suggestion is that high inflation has already eroded a large proportion of the monetary excess, with the current deviation equivalent to 3% of disposable income.

Chart 2

Real money holdings were 2.7% above trend in April. Household M4 grew at a 4.2% annualised rate in the latest three months. If this pace were to be maintained, nominal money holdings would rise by 2.4% by Q4 2022. The Bank of England’s May forecast of CPI inflation of 10.2% in Q4, meanwhile, implies an increase in prices of 5.0% between April and then. These projections would entail a further 2.5% contraction in real money holdings by Q4. With “trend” increasing by 1.2% between April and Q4, the current positive deviation would swing to a small negative.