September 21, 2015

Bankers Threaten Fed with Layoffs if it Doesn’t Raise Rates

Say the Fed wanted to raise short-term interest rates to 1 percent, meaning that it did not want banks to lend at lower rates. Because the glut of reserves is so great, the Fed could not easily raise rates by reducing the availability of money. Instead, the Fed plans to pre-empt the market, paying banks 1 percent interest on reserves in their Fed accounts, so banks have little reason to lend at lower rates. “Why would you lend to anyone else when you can lend to the Fed?” Kevin Logan, chief United States economist at HSBC, asked rhetorically.
This is not a cheap trick. Since the crisis, the Fed has paid banks a token annual rate of 0.25 percent on reserves. Last year alone, that cost $6.7 billion that the Fed would have otherwise handed over to the Treasury. Paying 1 percent interest would cost four times as much. The Fed has sent roughly $500 billion to the Treasury since 2008. As the Fed raises rates, some projections show that it may not transfer a single dollar in some years. Instead, the Fed will pay banks tens of billions of dollars not to use the trillions it paid them previously.
It’s also worth pointing out that financial firms historically have been losers in tightening cycles because they hold inventories of securities which fall in value as interest rates rise. In the past, they were inevitably net long. There simply was not enough hedging capacity for big dealers to go net short or simply flatten their positions. But Dodd Frank has forced dealers to cut their positions considerably, so the banks may feel they can make enough profit on having customers rearrange their lives (as in taking advantage of volatility) to offset losses on their OTC trading positions. i’d be curious to get informed reader views.
Now the Fed could use its reverse repo facility too, as reader craazyboy pointed out. But the Fed is already accounting for a significant portion of that market and may not want to become the repo market. Hence interest payments on reserves could be the Fed’s first line of intervention.

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