Monday, August 9, 2010

Federal Reserve Exit Watch: Part 13

In the summer of 2009, a great deal of concern was expressed about the Federal Reserve and the excessive amounts of Reserve Bank credit that had been pumped into the banking system. The Federal Reserve stated that it had an “exit” plan to withdraw these reserves from the banking system so as not to create an inflationary or hyper-inflationary environment once the economic recovery began to pick up speed.

Here we are 13 months into the “exit watch” and there has been “no exit” of reserves from the banking system. In fact, Reserve Bank credit is now $331 billion GREATER than it was one year ago; it has grown over the past 365 days by 16.7%, as of August 4, 2010.
The stated reason for this “no exit” performance: the economy has remained stagnant and as long as the economy stays very weak the Federal Reserve will keep its low target interest rates which means that the target Federal Funds rate will remain close to zero for an “extended period”.

As I have reported in my blog posts, my belief is that the Federal Reserve is excessively concerned about the solvency difficulties being experienced by the small banks in this county, a concern that I have recently summarized in my post of August 2, titled “No Banks, No Recovery,” There are many small banks experiencing extreme problems and the Federal Reserve is not going to begin withdrawing reserves from the banking system until there is some indication that this solvency problem is over.

Commercial bank Reserve Balances with Federal Reserve Banks has risen by $334 billion over the past year, an increase of 46.6% since August 5, 2009. Note that Excess Reserves at depository institutions rose from a monthly average of $750 billion in June 2009 to $1,035 billion in June 2010, an increase of 38%.

This is a strange “exit.”

And, as the Federal Reserve has pumped these additional reserves into the banking system, the total assets of the commercial banks in the United States fell by 1.7% from almost $12.0 trillion to about $11.8 trillion from June 2009 through June 2010. Loans and leases at these commercial banks declined by 2.6%. Banks got out of a substantial amount of business loans during this time period, as commercial and industrial loans fell by 16.7%, June-over-June, and commercial real estate loans declined by 7.8%, year-over-year.

The reserves the Fed is pumping into the banking system are not going into “pumping up” the economy. The reserves the Fed is pumping into the banking system are just going into excess reserves!

Looking at a shorter period of time, over the past 13 weeks, the last quarter, Reserve balances with Federal Reserve banks rose by $8.0 billion. The primary swings in the Fed’s balance sheet over this time period were operational in nature. There was a $26 billion decrease in the General Account of the U. S. Treasury, a seasonal increase in currency in circulation of about $9 billion and a $7 billion rise in Foreign Reverse Repos. The offsetting transactions of the Fed to neutralize these changes was an increase in Securities Held Outright by the Fed of about $12 billion, the primary increase coming in the Fed’s purchase of Mortgage-backed securities.

In the past 4 weeks, the U. S. Treasury balance reversed itself, increasing by almost $28 billion and there were modest declines in currency in circulation and Foreign Reverse Repos. The Fed offset a portion of these by letting it holdings of Federal Agencies decline by a little more than $5 billion. The net effect of these operating transactions was a $19 billion decline in Reserve balances held at Federal Reserve banks.

Thus, over the past 4 weeks and over the past 13 weeks, Reserve Bank Credit barely changed. Both periods were dominated by operating transactions within the banking system offset by Federal Reserve balancing transactions.

As a consequence, excess reserves in the banking system stayed relatively constant over the last quarter of the year.

Loans and leases at commercial banks continued to decline over the last 4-week and 13 week periods as did commercial and industrial loans and commercial real estate loans.

In summary, the Exit Watch in the thirteenth month of its existence can report little or no action on the exit front over the past month or the past three months. “Exit” is still on hold until either the general condition of the small banks improves or the economic recovery really becomes an economic recovery…or both.

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