Saturday, June 4, 2011

Is the Fed in a trap?

George Meollan writes in the Wall Street Journal the Fed may be in a trap as it borrows short and lends long, something that contributed to the stagflation of the 1970's and the S&L implosion:

"The Fed has been committing an ancient sin that has tripped up many a banker: borrowing short and lending long. Although this is a common practice—for example, issuing one-year CDs to depositors to buy 30-year mortgages—it involves an inherent vulnerability. The bank makes its money on the differential between the low interest rate on short-term borrowing and the higher rate it gets on long-term lending. But if its long-term portfolio suddenly loses value, the bank is subject to a large loss that eats into its capital and jeopardizes its ability to continue attracting short-term investment. Banks go broke that way.

Last year, the Fed launched a second round of quantitative easing, QE2, in which it set about to buy $600 billion in Treasury bonds and notes as a form of economic stimulation. As the current sluggishness of the economy makes evident, there hasn't been much stimulus. But the Fed has helped the U.S. Treasury finance a massive federal $1.6 trillion deficit and refinance the maturing portion of the $14 trillion national debt.

The Fed has not bought up Treasury bonds and notes with newly created money. Instead, it has been getting its $600 billion by borrowing from the vast excess reserves owned by the private banks. These are deposits with the Fed in excess of those required by law. They expanded enormously post-2008, when the Fed was creating new money to replace the liquidity the banks had lost in the market crash.

The Fed is borrowing the money cheaply, at only a quarter of a percent interest rate. The Treasuries it buys yield over 3%. Meanwhile, the Fed can claim that it also is "immobilizing" reserves that, if loaned into the economy, could be inflationary. Sounds pretty clever, doesn't it?.....

But the Fed is running a big interest-rate risk. Over the past few years, the Fed has borrowed about $1 trillion in excess reserves from member banks. The banks can call in those loans to the Fed on demand, which is about as short-term as you can get. Should the economy pick up and banks need that money to make private loans, the Fed would have to offer a higher rate to try to hold those reserves. But when interest rates go up, the value of bonds goes down—and so too would the market value of the Fed's $2 trillion-plus portfolio of Treasurys and mortgage-backed securities.

Writing in on May 6, William F. Ford (a former Atlanta Fed president) and Walker F. Todd (who did stints with both the Cleveland and New York Feds as a lawyer and economist) note that a one percentage point rise in long-term interest rates would lower the market value of the Fed's current bond portfolio by $100 billion. That would more than wipe out the $81.7 billion in earnings the Fed reported for 2010.

The reserve banks' skimpy capital base could be wiped out. Federal Reserve banks don't adhere to the asset-to-capital requirements imposed on private banks. And according to Messrs. Ford and Todd, the New York Fed has an "astounding" 98-1 leverage ratio—worse than Fannie Mae in its heyday.

Of course this is all theoretical, given that the Fed isn't obliged to acknowledge a loss on its portfolio until it sells securities and actually realizes the loss. But it does explain why the Fed is uncomfortable with any development that would cause the cost of long-term credit to rise and the value of existing portfolios to fall. It shows no inclination to raise its near-zero interest rate target, whatever critics say......" Column


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, this doesn't make the top 20 reasons we are in hot water. The end may be closer than we think. By "the end" I don't mean rapture or some huge war. I mean the country being relagated to a spot somewhere between between third world nation status and the upper echelon.

Anonymous said...

The people at Fed and PD's are fine. We, however, are fucked.

bill said...

Another indication of why our country and way of life might be in trouble - this story has three comments, the post on Stuart Irby's divorce has 39. In the interest of fair disclosure, I commented on both. Entertainment is more important than news, and that's why so many people seem to have lost interest in the things that have an impact on their daily lives. Bill Billingsley

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS