Here in Texas you know spring is here when our state flower, the bluebonnet, pops up everywhere. I was at the Masters in Augusta last year, and the azaleas were beautiful. But they are cultivated and take a lot of work to bring out their beauty.
The bluebonnet is pure Texan. It is independent and can thrive anywhere. Anywhere else it would be called a weed. The state of Texas plants 30,000 pounds of bluebonnet seed along our highways every year. Last year was the 100th anniversary of the state’s planting program. And then of course there are the (deep red) Indian paintbrushes and other wildflowers that are planted. Additional oceans of bluebonnets are planted or reseed on private land. Bluebonnets, which need no fertilizer or anything other than sunlight and a little water, are cheap natural nitrogen fixation for hay fields. This time of year you can see the land carpeted here and there with bluebonnets if you fly over Texas.
Photo: Getty Images
We see families taking pictures along the highways, telling their small children to smile and pose. Our family did it, just like everyone else. During bluebonnet season it is impossible to drive around the metroplex on the weekends without seeing people pulled over on the highways taking pictures of the bluebonnet explosions that seemingly erupt overnight.
The bluebonnets make spring a nice time of year – particularly this year, at least for me, because I see little beauty in the economic news.
On the other hand, there is a kind of beauty in seeing the economic indicators graphically, even when I don’t like what they show. So this week I’m going to dip – one last time –into the Strategic Investment Conference slide archives to show you what some of my favorite analysts shared in San Diego. These charts won’t be in any particular order, because they cover several different topics. And because it is Easter and/or Passover weekend, I will keep the word count down.
Just like the weather, the world economy and financial markets go through cycles. Most years, they don’t change suddenly. We get some transition time between the colder and warmer seasons. I fear we may be in an economic transition right now, and it may not be in the direction of the springtime or summer we would prefer. But let’s look at these charts and see what they tell us.
Velocity and Debt
We’ll begin with Lacy Hunt, chief economist at Hoisington Management and all-around monetary genius. He is one of the few who watch the velocity of money, which is continuing to fall, as it has for almost 20 years. This is not the stuff that GDP growth dreams are made of. The last decade saw an average of only 1.9% annual GDP growth. I think we can attribute that underwhelming performance partially to the ongoing fall in the velocity of money.
You may be asking, what exactly is the velocity of money? Essentially, it’s the frequency with which the same dollar changes hands because the holders of the dollar use it to buy something. Higher velocity means more economic activity, which usually means higher growth. So it is somewhat disturbing to see velocity now at its lowest point since 1949, and at levels associated with the Great Depression.