Tag: interest rates

Unwinding $1 trillion in Toxic Assets

Ben S. Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve

Used toxic assets, anyone?

Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, announced that the Fed was likely to begin to sell some of the $1 trillion in mortgages, the so-called “toxic assets,” that it purchased over the last fifteen months to help stave off a total credit market meltdown. Those purchases essentially doubled the U.S. money supply, igniting fears of potential inflation should the underlying real economy recover before the money supply could be drawn back down. See earlier post.

Well, the process of tightening the money supply may be just around the corner. And increases in interest rates and the cost of everything purchased on credit – homes, cars, durable goods, and business capital expenditures – are not far behind. Increases in interest rates dampen economic activity, an unfortunate development given the current lethargic state of the U.S. economy. But it has to be done sometime – we cannot sustain such a huge increase in the money supply without paying an even higher price in terms of inflation and a weak dollar.

It will be interesting to see who buys the toxic assets and how much they will pay. Regardless, the sale will reduce the money supply which, if done in a slow, orderly manner, is a good thing for the economy. Getting the Fed out of the business of buying and selling private market securities will be an even better thing for the U.S. economy. Now more than ever we need a monetary authority that is focused on the best policies for our economy, not those that help Fannie Mae, the White House, or the Treasury Secretary save face.

By Sherry Jarrell

The Fed’s Exit Strategy

The Federal Reserve finally addresses how it plans to unwind trillions in toxic assets

Finally, we hear from the Federal Reserve about how they plan to unwind the billions of dollars of toxic assets they purchased over the last 18 months or so without creating further distortions in the U.S. and world financial markets (Fed lays out exit detail). This after the Fed barely acknowledged one of the most dramatic runups in the money supply in U.S. history.

Brian Sack, EVP Markets Group, Federal Reserve
The announcement came in a speech by Brian P. Sack, the executive Vice President of the Markets Group at the Fed.  I am impressed by this guy. He seems to know what he’s talking about and seems to understand how markets and fed policy interact.

In earlier posts I wondered aloud how the Fed might accomplish this tricky task. It is a very delicate balance between reducing the money supply too quickly, which would spike short term rates, and too slowly, which would increase long-term rates due to worries about inflation (which occurs when money growth is higher than the economy’s real growth, even if money growth is falling).

The Fed, the article explains, apparently intends to let $200 billion of the estimated $1.25 trillion in new money supply simply “mature” by the end of 2011 without replacing it. This represents largely toxic assets. The Fed might let another $140 billion of Treasuries it purchased during normal open market operations mature at the end of 2011, but they aren’t committing to that.  So that’s about $340/$1,250 or about 35% of the historic increase in money supply that may be vaporized over the next 21 months. What about the rest?  It would be nice to know but….

The Fed is doing the right thing by explaining its policy intentions — ANY of its policy intentions — to the markets.  Markets want, need, and deserve information from our officials, something that has been sorely lacking of late. With information, lenders and borrowers can plan, they can optimize. Without information, guessing, withdrawing from the market, and fear rule the day. Not a good environment for economic recovery.

by Sherry Jarrell