The Federal Reserve had warned us that it was going to start “testing” the use of reverse repos as the mechanism for reducing the size of its securities portfolio. It had also informed us that a “test period” would begin last week.
It has begun, albeit in a very small amount.
Reserve balances with Federal Reserve Banks changed by only an insignificant amount last week.
Reserve balances did rise over the past 4 weeks and the past 13 weeks. In the last 4-week period reserve balances rose by a little more than $60 billion, $52 billion coming from factors supplying reserves and a negative $10 billion from factors absorbing reserves.
The $52 billion increase in factors supplying reserves was centered on an $85 billion increase in securities held outright ($79 billion in Mortgage-backed securities and $6 billion Federal Agency securities) and a $36 billion reduction in two accounts associated with the insertion of funds into the banking system early in the financial crisis last year. The Term Auction Credit Facility (TAF) dropped by almost $24 billion in the last four weeks and Central Bank Liquidity Swaps fell by about $13 billion.
The rest of the items connected with the innovative market facilities that the Fed created during the time of financial distress changed very little.
So the “Special Facilities” continue to wind down and the Fed continues to substitute marketable securities in its portfolio for the funds that were injected into the banking system to stem the crisis.
In terms of factors absorbing reserves at this time, the general account of the U. S. Treasury Department, its operating account at the Fed (it pays its bills out of this account), dropped by about $8 billion and this added reserves to the banking system and was the primary factor in the additional $10 billion increase in Reserve Balances mentioned above. The Treasury writes checks, they get deposited in banks, and bank reserves increase.
Over the longer term, the last 13 weeks, the government accounts have played a big part in the injection of reserves into the banking system. There is an account titled “U. S. Treasury, Supplemental Financing Account” which has been around since October 2008 (and reached a maximum of about $560 billion in November 2008 (Connected with TARP?). This account declined by $185 billion over the last 13 weeks.
The U. S. Treasury general account rose by $51 billion during this time, apparently the funds from the supplemental account were transferred to the general account so that they could write checks on it. Consequently, the net of the two, $134 billion got into the banking system and ended up as a part of Reserve Balances with Federal Reserve Banks.
During this 13-week period, the Fed also supplied $100 billion in reserves to the banking system through open-market purchases. To do this the Federal Reserve added $281 billion to the securities that it bought outright. The purchases were across the board: $229 billion in Mortgage-backed securities; $33 billion Federal Agency securities; and $19 billion in Treasury securities.)
The run-off in the special accounts over the past 13 weeks is obvious. The Term Auction Credit Facility (TAF) declined by $126 billion and Central Bank Liquidity Swaps fell by $45 billion, a total of $171 billion.
Primary bank loans from the discount window also fell by $10 billion so, over the past 13-week, period the Fed supplied reserves by buying $281 billion in securities and this was offset by a decline in “crisis” accounts of $171 and $10 in bank borrowing so that $100 billion additional funds reached Bank Reserves.
- The Federal Reserve continues to let accounts connected with the financial crisis run off. This appears to be going along quite smoothly.
- The Federal Reserve continues to substitute funds from open-market purchases to replace the funds that are running-off. This appears to be going along quite smoothly.
- The Fed is now testing the mechanism, Reverse Repurchase Agreements, by which it means to reduce its portfolio of securities and drain excess reserves from the banking system. The first test went along quite smoothly.
- The U. S. Treasury supplemental financing account is now just $15 billion and will probably not be a big factor in changing bank reserves in the future.
- The Federal Reserve is going to be facing a lot of “operating factors” over the next month that may cloud up any other actions that the Fed may be taking. These “operating factors” relate to government deposits and the increased use of currency in circulation during the holiday season. These disruptions should end by the middle of January 2010.
Note: Excess Reserves in the banking system still are running above $1.1 trillion. There is little evidence yet that banks want to do anything with these reserves other than hold onto them: this, in spite of the efforts of the Obama administration to get banks lending, especially to small business.