Future Fed action scenario

Federal Reserve reverse repurchases

The question under discussion at the moment is the extent to which the Fed could continue to rely on these two devices– Treasury borrowing on its behalf and banks’ willingness to simply hold the ballooning reserves– to contain the monetary consequences of its expansion. The traditional political gamesmanship over the debt ceiling could well induce the Treasury to want to discontinue its facilitation of the expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet, in which case the Fed must either reduce some of its lending or count on banks to hold even more excess reserves. Some in the Fed are assuming that they could always ensure the latter outcome, if needed, by raising the interest rate the Fed pays on reserves. But clearly the Fed has no desire at the moment to raise interest rates, so it’s difficult for me to imagine them taking that step any time soon.

Where else could the Fed get the funds? Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke described his contingency thinking last July:

the Federal Reserve could drain bank reserves and reduce the excess liquidity at other institutions by arranging large-scale reverse repurchase agreements with financial market participants, including banks, government-sponsored enterprises and other institutions. Reverse repurchase agreements involve the sale by the Fed of securities from its portfolio with an agreement to buy the securities back at a slightly higher price at a later date.

Just as the Fed converted the use of repos, which had historically been used on a small scale to temporarily add reserves, into a much larger operation with which it could lend broadly on a long-term basis, it is now contemplating using the reverse repo, which had historically been used on a small scale to temporarily drain reserves, into a much larger operation with which it could borrow broadly on a long-term basis.”

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