Fed Drains $485 Billion in Liquidity from Market via Reverse Repos, Undoing 4 Months of QE, Even as QE Continues, Total Assets Near $8 Trillion

Article written by Wolf Richter of Wolf Street

May 27, 2021

This morning, the Fed sold a record $485 billion in Treasury securities via overnight “reverse repos” to 50 counterparties, beating the prior record set on December 31, 2015. These overnight reverse repos will mature and unwind tomorrow morning. Today, yesterday’s $450 billion in overnight reverse repos matured and unwound, and were more than replaced with this new batch of $485 billion in overnight reverse repos.

Reverse repos are liabilities on the Fed’s balance sheet. They’re the opposite of repos, which are assets. With these reverse repos, the Fed is sellingTreasury securities to counterparties and is taking their cash, thereby massively draining liquidity from the market – the opposite effect of QE.

In past years of large reserves following QE, banks shed reserves via reverse repos, reducing reserves on the balance sheet and increasing their Treasury holdings, to dress up their balance sheet at the end of the quarter, and particularly at the end of the year. Reverse repos declined after the Fed started reducing its assets during Quantitative Tightening in 2018 and 2019. But the current record spike is taking place in the middle of the quarter, a sign that the enormous amount of liquidity is going haywire:

This is a crazy situation that the Fed backed into.

Even as liquidity is going haywire, and as the Fed trying to deal with it via reverse repos, the Fed is still buying about $120 billion per month in Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities, thereby adding liquidity.

But with its reverse repos of $485 billion, the Fed undid four months of QE!

The Fed could stop buying securities altogether and reduce its balance sheet, which would also drain liquidity from the market. But the Fed cannot do that because it said it would be slow and deliberate in announcing changes in its monetary policy, and that it might eventually talk about talking about tapering, so it can’t just suddenly do an about-face.

But this liquidity-haywire situation appears to be an emergency that needs to be addressed now, and so the Fed is addressing it through the backdoor via the overnight reverse repos.

At the same time, the Fed continues QE. Its total assets were of $7.90 trillion on its balance sheet as of May 26, released today, were down by $19 billion from the record last week, following the typical pattern. These assets include $5.09 trillion in Treasury securities and $2.24 trillion in mortgage-backed securities (MBS):

The Fed has discussed this liquidity issue during the last FOMC meeting and summarized some of the discussions in its meeting minutes. It noted that “a modest amount of trading” in the reverse repo market took place at negative yields, meaning that there is so much demand for Treasury securities, and so much liquidity chasing them, that the holders of liquidity were willing to lose money to obtain Treasury securities. This threatens to push related rates into the negative, such as SOFR (Secured Overnight Financing Rate) which is the Fed’s reference rate to replace LIBOR.

The Fed, sitting on $5.09 trillion in Treasury securities, has been stepping into the reverse repo market, selling Treasuries overnight to satisfy this demand for Treasuries and keep yields from meandering below zero.

The tsunami of liquidity.

Everyone has their own theory as to why there is so much demand for Treasury securities. But one thing we know: the banking system is creaking under a huge amount of liquidity.

Bank reserves on deposit at the Fed – a liability on the Fed’s balance sheet, money that the Fed owes the banks and that it pays the banks currently 0.1% interest on – ballooned to a record of $3.98 trillion on April 14 and have since then zigzagged down a smidgen. On the Fed’s balance sheet released today, they were at $3.81 trillion. This is a sign of just how much liquidity banks are swimming in:

The drawdown of the Treasury General Account.

The government sold a gigantic amount of debt last spring, adding $3 trillion to its debt in a few months and kept the unspent amounts in its checking account – the General Treasury Account or GTA at the Fed, which is a liability for the Fed, money that it owes the US Treasury. The balance in the GTA ballooned to $1.8 trillion by July 2020, compared to the pre-crisis range between $100 billion and $400 billion.

The Mnuchin Treasury started spending down the balance in the checking account by borrowing a little less. By early January, the GTA was down to $1.6 trillion.

The Yellen Treasury formalized the drawdown and in early February announced that it would bring the balance down to $500 billion by June. This turned out to be too much too fast, and it now looks like August will be the month when the drawdown reaches the $500 billion mark.

On the balance sheet the Fed released today, the balance as of May 26 was down to $779 billion. Down by $821 billion since February, $279 billion to go:

The drawdown of the GTA has some implications for the markets: this is money that the government will spend but doesn’t have to collect in taxes or borrow; it already borrowed it in March through June last year. And the Fed mopped up this debt with its $3 trillion in asset purchases. So the drawdown means that the government has been spending this money that the Fed had already monetized in the spring last year.

All of this has big implications for the markets. These are huge amounts, in terms of reserves on deposit at the Fed, the drawdown of GTA at the Fed, and now the reverse repos at the Fed, all of them liabilities at the Fed, all of them representing different aspects of the massive flows of liquidity that are now bouncing off the walls.

Inflation: More Evidence

Recall the definition of inflation: “Any Increase in the economy’s supply of money not consisting of an increase in the stock of the money metal.” ~Murray N. Rothbard, Phd from “What Has Government Done to Our Money?”

After understanding the definition of inflation, review the chart listed here in this article. It shows the growth of the monetary base since January 2008. Clearly, the trend for monetary base expansion demonstrates an upward trend since 2008. This can be explained by all the bailouts, repo agreements, stimulus packages, and etc that have been done during this time period by the Federal Reserve and US Government.

People conflate the notion of increase in prices as inflation. The increase in prices occur after the monetary base has been expanded beyond the amount of money metal. Note: Prices can rise due to other factors, such as increased scarcity for a resource. That is not the focus of the article.

As more monetary base units are printed, beyond the money metal in storage, each unit in circulation becomes less “valuable”. At this point, it requires more monetary base units to purchase goods and services. This is why prices rise from the increase in the monetary base.

This is why Gold, Silver, and Bitcoin is so appealing to investors. These assets allow for investors to hedge against inflation, and store value for future consumption across time. Their current amounts can not be increased by a governing body.

Source: St Louis Federal Reserve

US National Debt Passes $28 Trillion, +$4.7 Trillion in 13 Months. General Treasury Account Down by $480 Billion in 2 Months, $620 Billion to Go

What does it mean for the markets that the government now spends the proceeds from debt sales last spring that the Fed had monetized back then?

By Wolf Richter for WOLF STREET.

It finally happened, that glorious moment, when, after teetering on the verge for weeks – for reasons we’ll get into shortly – the incredibly spiking US gross national debt, after kissing the line a couple of times for a moment, finally, and suddenly by a big leap, jumped over the $28-trillion mark, with a $143-billion leap in one day on Wednesday, March 31, following some big Treasury sales. It gave some of that up on Thursday as some bonds matured. And it now amounts to $28.08 trillion, as per US Treasury Department on Friday.

The US gross national debt has now spiked by $4.7 trillion in 13 months since the end of February 2020, in the days before this show started.

The flat spots in the chart are the visual depictions of a charade unique to American politics, the periods when the debt bounced into the Debt Ceiling. Those were the days when everyone in Congress was still trying to hijack the Debt Ceiling law to get their favorite spending priorities!

If it looks like the trillions have been whizzing by a little less fast in recent months, that the growth of the debt has somehow slowed, that is correct.

The chart below magnifies the daily debt levels since December. On March 3, the debt level touched $28 trillion but only barely and just for one day, before backing off, and then kissed it again on March 17, only to back off again and remain tantalizingly close, but no cigar, until Wednesday, when it did the deed with one huge $148-billion leap:

The reason for this slowdown in borrowing is that the government sold a gigantic amount of debt last spring, adding $3 trillion to its debt in a few months, and then didn’t spend all of it, but kept the unspent amounts in its checking account – the General Treasury Account or GTA — which ballooned to $1.8 trillion by July, from the pre-crisis range between $100 billion and $400 billion.

During the final months of the Mnuchin Treasury, it was decided to start spending down the balance in the checking account by borrowing a little less, and by early January, the GTA had dropped to $1.6 trillion.

Early on in the Yellen Treasury, the drawdown was formalized. In early February, a schedule was announced: the balance would be brought down by $1.1 trillion to $500 billion by June. And they’re now well into it.

The drawdown has the effect that the government spends money it doesn’t have to borrow at the moment because it already borrowed it last spring when the Fed was still monetizing essentially all of the borrowing. This has some implications for the markets.

The government’s TGA is at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and is reported weekly on the Fed’s balance sheet as a liability (banks report deposit accounts as liabilities) because this is money the Fed owes the government.

In the two months since early February, the balance has plunged by $480 billion to $1.12 trillion. Over the next three months, it will plunge by another $620 billion:

During the six months through June, the government will spend $1.1 trillion that it doesn’t have to borrow because it already borrowed it a year ago and that the Fed monetized at the time. But this ends in June.

What does this mean?

Not having to borrow this $1.1 trillion of spending during the first half of 2021 is taking pressure off the Treasury market. And yet, despite that relief, the 10-year Treasury yield has surged to 1.72%.

By June, this pressure valve will close, and the government will borrow more, and the market will have to digest it, and there is a huge amount of new borrowing being lined up to fund the added spending. This will put further upward pressure on long-term yields.

The fact that the government is now spending the proceeds from debt sales a year ago that the Fed monetized a year ago has been adding liquidity to the economy and the markets – liquidity that had been stuck in the TGA – possibly adding to the craziness of the markets in recent months. But that will end in June.

End of QE-4: Fed’s Repos Drop Below Oct 2 Level, T-Bills Balloon, MBS Fall, Total Assets Down to Dec 25 Level

Total repos on the Fed’s balance sheet of February 5, released Thursday afternoon, have plunged by $85 billion from the peak on January 1, to $170 billion, below where they’d first been on October 2:

Under these “repurchase agreements,” the Fed buys Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities (MBS), guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, or Ginnie Mae, whereby the counterparties commit to buy back these securities at a fixed price on a specific date, such as the next day (overnight repo) or a longer period, such as 14 days (term repo). Repos are by definition in-and-out transactions. When a repo matures and unwinds, the Fed gets its money back, and the repo on the Fed’s balance sheet goes to zero.

By buying these securities, the Fed adds liquidity to the market for the duration of the repo. When the repo matures and unwinds, the liquidity gets drained from the market. When a new repo transaction occurs, the process starts over again, but with a different amount and with a different maturity date.

Read more of this article here:

Who Are the Current Main Players in the Federal Funds Market?

When the Federal Reserve conducts monetary policy, it announces a target for the “federal funds” interest rate. The implication is that if this specific rate rises or falls, it will affect other interest rates throughout the US economy; for example, like federal funds interest rate moves closely together with other key benchmark interest rates, like  the interest rate for overnight borrowing on AA-rated commercial paper. However, the identity of the parties borrowing and lending in the “federal funds” market has changed dramatically since the Great Recession. 

Read more here: http://conversableeconomist.blogspot.com/2020/01/who-are-current-main-players-in-federal.html

Exponential Growth in Fiscal Irresponsibility: Federal Deficit Grows $342 Billion in First Two Months of 2020 Fiscal Year

Introduction

Congress, the Grand Stewards of the Federal Government’s treasure chest, have continued down the road of fiscal perdition. How? For the first two months of the Fiscal year of 2020, the United States Federal Government’s deficit has grown $342 billion, per the Congressional Budget Office. This represents a 12 percent increase over previous periods. Based upon the CBO, the Federal Deficit will average $1.2 Trillion per year between 2020 and 2029.

What Does This Mean?

With the proliferation of federal government spending, combined with ever increasing budget deficits, this leads to more activity of the growth of the government debt. Debt security instruments, such as United States treasuries, are sold to obtain cash in order to “true up” the deficit. Purchasers of Government debt can be foreign nations, but on the domestic side, The Fed is the largest purchaser of Government Securities. Back to the transaction, once this transaction takes place, this expands the money supply. It is expanded with injecting the cash, by the sale of the treasuries, into the money supply when the fed purchases them. The Fed’s balance sheet continues to grow along with the ongoing purchasing of debt securities. A quick reminder of the concept of inflation: It is the expansion of the monetary base.

The Road of Fiscal Perdition

With the expansion of the federal government entitlement programs, such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, it only makes sense that the deficit will average $1.2 trillion per year over the next decade. As the baby boomers begin to draw down social security benefits, the demand for health care will rise. This will place a strain on resources, pushing health care costs upward.
Also: Inflation has a deleterious impact upon savers and individuals that are on a fixed income. Since the value of the currency declines, this reduces the purchasing power for goods. This creates a situation that more individuals become more dependent on Medicaid and other Government social programs.

Conclusion

Due to the overwhelming use of government resources, the deficit will continue grow. This will lead to more borrowing, which will lead to more inflation, which leads to more individuals struggling to cover their expenditures. Good luck building wealth in this economic environment.

Excursus

Read the CBO report here: https://www.cbo.gov/publication/55551%20%C2%A0

Chinese Currency Manipulation and Price Controls

Introduction

The curious claim made against the Chinese about “Currency Manipulation” is gaining momentum. Many believe that the United States are “losers” in trade relations with China.  Somehow these modern day mercantilists believe that this impacts the trade deficit with China. In reality, the United States benefits from China’s “currency manipulation”, at the expense of the Chinese citizens. To have a deeper understanding why this is true, “currency” must be analyzed as a good, and the Chinese government, in effect, is placing price controls on its currency. When analyzed under this light, the outcome is pretty clear: the Tax Payer class in China pays the economic cost of this action.

Economic Theoretical Considerations of Price Controls

In economics, there are two types of price controls. The first type is where the Government places a price maximum on a particular good or service. When this happens, the price maximum is above the equilibrium price. Based on the law of demand, the stock of the goods will increase, thus creating a surplus of that particular good. An example of this is the “ghost” cities in China. There are many buildings that are empty because the prices of those buildings are above the equilibrium price. The second type of price control is where the Government places a price minimum on a particular good. In the event of having the Government implements a price control that is below the equilibrium price, a shortage occurs. An example of this situation is the long gas lines that occurred during the 1970s when the Government implemented price controls.

Currency Manipulation is a form of Price Control

To move forward in this analysis, one must look the currency as a “good”. Looking back at the claim that China is manipulating its currency, let us look at the ways that this falls under the two forms of price controls, as mentioned previously. When the Central Bank decides to increase the money supply, based on the Central Bank’s estimates, and not what the market demands, it is placing a price maximum on the currency. This creates a surplus of currency in circulation. On the other hand, if the Central Bank decides to remove currency out of the circulation, but not based on what the market demands, it is creating a price minimum on the currency.

The Case with China 

The Chinese currency, relative to the US dollar, in this exchange, is a victim of price controls. There is an exchange ratio between the US Dollar and the Chinese Yuan. That ratio is “fixed”(sort of). When the Chinese central bank increases the Yuan supply, it creates a surplus of Yuan in circulation. Since there is an increase of Yuan in circulation, this devalues the Yuan, in terms of the US Dollar. Since the US Dollar is not commonly used by the vast majority of the Chinese citizens, and those citizens use Yuan to purchase goods and services, the Chinese citizens pay the price for the increase in the money supply. This is inflation. The Chinese citizens will see the prices, as expressed in Yuan, increase. This also usurps their savings, and it impacts citizens that are on fixed incomes. The goods they normally purchase take more Yuan to purchase, yet the dollar becomes stronger, relative to the Yuan.

Who Benefits from Chinese Currency Manipulation? 

It is obvious that the Chinese citizens are not benefiting from currency price fixing. The savers lose out, and the folks on fixed income also lose too. But, the folks who can hold US Dollars are “winners” in this scenario. Why is this true? Since the Yuan is being held to a price maximum, and a surplus is created, this drives down the value of the currency. Yet, assuming the US Dollar stays constant, this raises the value of the Dollar, relative to the Yuan.  The holders of the US Dollar, who live in China, they all benefit greater than the other residents who use Yuan.

Conclusion

This dynamic is simply an expression of Gresham’s Law. The higher valued currency, drives out the lower valued currency, albeit in a “black market”.  In this case, the US Dollar and Gold are held by a minority of individuals, political class and the tax consumer class–and the Chinese Tax Payer is using the devalued Yuan to use to purchase goods and services. This entire scheme is all set up by the Chinese central bank and Chinese government.