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Personal savings during the pandemic

BEA data show recent spikes in the personal savings rate

Many households have been financially distressed during the COVID-19 pandemic, struggling to pay for necessities such as rent and groceries. It may seem surprising, then, that the aggregate personal saving rate has actually increased since the start of the pandemic.

The FRED graph above displays the U.S. personal saving rate from June 2009 to the present. As defined by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, personal savings are income left over after people spend money and pay taxes. The personal saving rate is personal savings expressed as a percentage of disposable personal income. From the end of the Great Recession to February 2020, the personal saving rate has averaged 7.25%; since the start of the pandemic, however, it has averaged 17.9%.

There are several reasons for this increased average saving rate:

  • Households practicing precautionary saving during an economic downturn
  • Inability to spend money due to business closures and social distancing guidelines
  • Stimulus checks (or relief payments) distributed to a large majority of U.S. households

The FRED graph shows the spikes in the personal saving rate (dotted vertical lines) that correspond to the timing of the stimulus checks distributed in April 2020, January 2021, and March 2021. (Note that the months of distribution aren’t necessarily the same months in which the stimulus/relief bills were passed.) Many households spent their stimulus checks on necessities or other goods and services. But due to the broad nature of relief check/stimulus payment eligibility, some households that received payments didn’t need or want to spend the extra disposable income immediately; rather, they saved it. According to the Household Pulse Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, 14% of households mostly saved their stimulus check in the first round of payments, 26% did so in the second round, and 32% in the third round.

Though the overall saving rate spiked following these payments and has remained higher than usual throughout the pandemic, this aggregate measure of the personal saving rate does not reflect the variability of household financial stability within the income distribution. Low-income households have been disproportionately affected by financial hardship during the pandemic, and many of those households have had to either draw on savings or go into debt, which is not reflected in the aggregate personal saving rate. Moreover, these households were already less likely to be able to save. According to Survey of Consumer Finances data from 2019, about 37% of families in the lowest quintile of the income distribution reported saving some portion of their income over the previous 12 months. About 86% of families in the highest decile of the income distribution reported doing so.

How this graph was created: Search FRED for “personal saving rate” and select the series “PSAVERT.” The default graph will be the monthly personal saving rate as a percent. Use the date range boxes to set the beginning date to “2009-06-01.” From the “Edit Graph” panel, use the “Add Line”/“Create user-defined line” tool to add the lines indicating the passage of each stimulus check, with the following dates: 2020-04-01, 2021-01-01, and 2021-03-01. Set the lines’ starting and ending values to 0 and 35 to produce vertical lines at each of the dates. To change the colors and line style, use the “Format” tab.

Suggested by YiLi Chien, Cassandra Marks, and Julie Bennett.

Is China becoming a new innovation powerhouse?

Data from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

The FRED graph above shows total U.S. patents granted originating from China and Germany from 1992 through 2020, indexed to 100 in 1992.

Germany has long been the most innovative European country in terms of U.S. patents granted, and their total has steadily increased, by 152%, from 1992 to 2020. What’s interesting is how quickly China has closed the gap and even surpassed Germany in patents since joining the WTO on December 11, 2001. As part of their entry to the WTO, China agreed to the basic Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) provisions protecting intellectual property rights.

In 2001, the U.S. granted 11,894 patents to German inventors, while granting only 266 to Chinese inventors. Over the next 19 years, as of 2020, U.S. patents granted to Germans increased 38% to just over 19,000 and U.S. patents granted to Chinese inventors increased nearly 10,000% to nearly 27,000.

While it’s easier to apply for a patent than to be granted one, so the exponential growth in the number of patents actually granted shows a dramatic improvement in the amount and quality of patents from China. This shift coincides with a push for China to improve their intellectual property rights both domestically and internationally.

How this graph was created: Search for “Granted Patents” and select “U.S. Granted Patents: Total Patents Originating in China”. From the “Edit Graph” panel, use the “Edit Line 1” tab to change the “Units” measurement to “Index (Scale value to 100 for chosen date).” Directly below this option, use the second box to change the indexed date to “1992-01-01.” Next, use the “Add Line” tab to search for and select “U.S. Granted Patents: Total Patents Originating in Germany.” Use the “Edit Line 2” tab to change the “Units” measurement to “Index (Scale value to 100 for chosen date).” Directly below this option, use the second box to change the indexed date to “1992-01-01.” Finally, use the “Format” tab to check the box next to “Log scale.”

Suggested by Ana Maria Santacreu and Jesse LaBelle.

Overnight reverse repurchase agreements: Short-term parking for reserves

The FRED Blog has described the use of overnight repurchase agreements to add liquidity to financial markets when bank reserves are ample. Today, we discuss the use of overnight reverse repurchase agreements (ON RRPs).

As the name strongly implies, ON RPPs are the flip sides of overnight repurchase agreements. These operations allow financial institutions that cannot receive interest payments on their reserves to deposit funds at the Fed overnight (with a security held as collateral). These operations remove liquidity from financial markets. ON RRPs are executed by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and the FRED graph above shows that their volume has steadily grown since the second quarter of 2021.

Two factors are at play here. First, the planned influx of liquidity to depository institutions to facilitate lending to households and businesses during the COVID-19-induced recession has made reserves plentiful. Second, the rate awarded to depositing institutions was raised from 0 to 0.05% on June 18.

How the graph was created: Search for and select “Overnight Reverse Repurchase Agreements: Treasury Securities Sold by the Federal Reserve in the Temporary Open Market Operations.” Voilà!

Suggested by Diego Mendez-Carbajo.

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