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The Federal Reserve Is Now Losing Money

The Fed’s D-Rate: 4.5% At Dec 31, 2013… And Dropping Fast

In April of 2010, Zero Hedge first brought up the topic of the Fed’s DV01, or the implicit duration risk borne by the Fed’s burgeoning balance sheet which at last check will approach 25% of US GDP by the end of 2013 (tangentially, back in 2010 the Fed’s DV01 was $1 billion - it is nearly $3 billion now and rising fast). Recently, we have noticed that the mainstream media has, with its usual 2 year delay, picked up on just this topic of the implicit and explicit risk borne by Bernanke’s grand (and final) monetary experiment. And slowly but surely they are coming to the inevitable conclusion (which our readers knew two years ago), that the Fed has no way out? Why? Ray Stone of Stone McCarthy explains so simply, a Nobel prize winning economist can get it.

From Stone McCarthy

Further asset purchases would compromise the Fed’s longer run profitability in two ways.

First, because the securities have been purchased during a period of economic distress the yields on these securities are unusually low. The purchase of these securities has been financed by reserve creation. The cost of reserve creation is the interest rate paid on reserves (IOER) currently only 25 bps.

Of course, the interest rates on IOER, RRPs, and Term Deposits all represent variable interest rates, while the yields on SOMA are effectively all fixed rates. Thus, there is an asset/liability mismatch, which could compromise the Fed’s Net  Interest Income (NIM) should short term interest rates rise. The Fed’s exit from the extraordinarily low funds rate regime will not be compromise by the prospect of reduced or negative NIM. Instead, the remittances to the Treasury would be reduced or suspended.

 

How high do these short-term interest rates have to go before the NIM become negative?

In 2012 the Fed generated $80.5 bln in interest income on an average $2.606 bln in SOMA holdings, or about 3.1%. The SOMA was funded by paying only 0.25% on average reserve balances of $1.527 trillion or about $3.8 bln. In other words NIM was about $77 bln.

Had the IOER been consistent with what FOMC participants regard as normal in the longer-run, say 4-1/4%, NIM in 2012 would have been only about $15 bln, with a slightly restrictive posture, say 5-1/4% NIM would be close to zero, and with at 5-1/2% NIM would have been negative.

Now if we do the same arithmetic with a SOMA that is increased by $1 trillion due to the asset purchase programs, even keeping the effective yield at 3.1%, we see that NIM turns negative at a lower funds rate. Gross interest income from SOMA would increase to around $115 bln. At the same time if the IOER was set at 4-1/4%, NIM would fall from $15 bln to only $4 bln. At a 4-1/2% NIM becomes negative.

In other words, at Dec. 31, 2013, a 4.5% interest rate (or, as we call it, the D-Rate) is where the Fed starts losing money.

And then, if the Fed waits another year, the NIM breakeven is 3.5%… if the Fed then waits another year, the NIM breakeven drops to a minuscule 2.5%… and so on until year after year, the tiniest rise in rates will force the Fed approach Congress and explain why suddenly, not only is it not remitting interest income to the Treasury, but why just as suddenly, there is now a credit balance, that has to be funded by the Treasury (a move which monetarily will require the Fed to bail itself out, but which politically and economically will be an epic and final hit to the credibility of the Fed, as the Fed will be officially printing money just to print money).

Of course, the above analysis assumes the Fed delays and avoids exiting QE in 2013, and then 2014 (and so on) as this is the last instrument Bernanke and his successor have to push up the stock market, never mind the economy, the unemployment rate or inflation. Which the Fed will have no choice but do, and yet the longer it build the wall of QE worry, the greater the negative sensitivity to even the smallest increase in interest (and IOER) rates, if and when inflation picks up and Bernanke is taken to task with his “15 minutes” promise of eliminating hyperinflation.

In other words, while QE4EVA may be unlimited in the eye of the beholding Chairman, it is very much limited by the amount of reserves pumped into the system, and the amount of cash that Ben will have to pay banks as interest on their excess reserves.

Finally, as once again Zero Hedge readers know well ahead of everyone, it will be the foreign banksthat will be the proud recipients of the tens or hundreds of billions of IOER funds when the inevitable IOER rate hike starts. This was explained here:

[S]ince it is improbable that excess reserves held by any banks will decline at all in the coming years, one can also assume that the annualized interest paid to foreign banks, which would amount to at least $5 billion pear year, every year, will continue indefinitely as a direct Fed subsidy to the bottom line of Foreign banks.

All of this, of course, ignores what happens should the Fed hike interest rates across the board, which will also mean rising the rates on IOER, once inflation finally strikes: simple math means a 1% IOER means some $20 billion in interest paid to foreign banks, 2% – $40 billion, 5% – $100 billion paid to foreign banks, and so on. Putting these numbers in perspective, let’s recall that Italy’s third largest bank just got a €3.9 billion bailout (its third), and has a market cap of some €2.9 billion.

Expect the MSM to figure out that it is precisely the foreign banks operating in the US, which now hold well more than half of all excess reserves in circulation, that will be the majority benefactors of the dollar bonanza that will be unleashed once the IOER begins its trickle up, in the next few years (or months at the rate record gasoline prices are soaring). Sadly, by then will we have far greater problems as a result of nobody once again understanding what is really going on behind the scenes.

Zero Hedge

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