One of the more peculiar observations we noted in our analysis of the Fed’s balance sheet yesterday, was that in the week just ended, reserves held by banks with the Federal Reserve dropped by a very material $64.2 billion even as the Fed ended up buying a net of $4 billion in securities: a $68 billion mismatch between an increase in reserves and Fed asset increases. A quick look at how this mismatch has progressed since the announcement of QE Lite (and QE 2) demonstrates this phenomenon very distinctly: while during the QE Lite phase, net holdings of the Fed were flat, bank reserves, which should have followed suit in fact declined notably, by almost $40 billion. Yet it is during the POMO phase of QE 2 that this difference become glaring. During a period when the Fed added a total of $88 billion (net of MBS paydowns) in securities, reserves increased by only $14 billion. This does not include the cumulative differential since QE Lite. And all this came to a head in the just ended week, when the difference between cumulative asset purchases and reserve changes hit a whopping $138 billion. This is very disturbing for a variety of reasons, the number of which is that, as Jim Bianco points out, banks are rapidly exchange securities with higher reserve requirements for those with lower: the net result is a far slower increase in reserves held with the Fed.
It also means that banks ever since QE Lite have been stealthily offloading lower quality fixed income products to the market and replacing these with Treasuries (motivation being unclear but likely having to do with presenting a better capitalized state). If true, this would mean that during the entire orchestrated HY bond rally sine August, those who have been buying are in fact the greatest suckers, and have been buying hundreds of billions worth of lower quality paper from none other than the allegedly smart money banks. Alternatively, what this means, is that instead of opening up capacity for banks to bid up riskier corporates and thus stimulate the economy, banks are forced to gobble up the toxic treasuries, that the Treasury puts upon them each and every week. Should this divergent trend persist, we would be very mindful of obtaining verification of either of these two hypotheses.
Chart 1: Change in Various Open Market Securities held by the Fed since QE Lite
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