The Wilder View

The Fed is shifting focus

It’s been three months since the Fed announced its Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF), and over two weeks since the Treasury announced its Financial Stability Plan, under which the size of the TALF was increased to $1 trillion. The size of the Fed balance sheet peaked at $2.3 trilliion on the week ending December 17, 2008, and has since then decreased by $354 billion (on 2/25/09).

The Fed is shifting focus. It awaits the start of its TALF program, where the Fed will lend against a wider range of collateral to a much broader base of firms (any U.S. company with eligible collateral can participate in TALF). Furthermore, the only programs that have increased in size are those to purchase directly alternative assets (MBS or CDOs, for example).


The table lists the Fed’s assets and liabilities since the peak of its bank credit activity on December 17, 2008. It appears to me that the Fed has changed its tune away from traditional lending and toward direct purchase of assets, increasing only those programs that buy assetsl directly.

The top line, Reserve Bank Credit, is all credit extended to the commercial banking system and primary dealers; it has fallen by $353 billion since two months ago. The Fed’s traditional method of targeting bank reserves is through the buying and selling of securities, and accepting a rather narrow range of collateral that was updated in 2006 (you can see the collateral that the Fed accepts for the TAF and discount window here).


The chart above comes from the Fed’s new website; it lists the collateral pledged for $1.5 trillion in lending as of the end of December. As you can see, the list is rather vague. It doesn’t list what these assets are worth now (current market value), and the ABS accepted is probably not the bad stuff that firms are currently writing down.

Overall, I presume that the traditional lending programs have probably become less attractive, as the assets that banks want to get off their balance sheets (collateral) cannot be done under current programs.

So the Fed is gearing up for TALF – Repo loans have been unwound. Originally, the Fed started beefing up its Repo arrangements with primary dealers, as the collateral accepted under a Repo (primary dealer collateral, see here) is slightly wider than the collateral accepted by traditional open market operations (buying and selling Treasuries).I take this reduction in repo lending as a sign that the Fed has announced or introduced new programs – TALF (assets backed by consumer credit and small business loans) or MBS purchase – that either purchase the illiquid assets directly or as collateral, making the back-door approach, repos, unnecessary.

The Fed has increased its holdings of CDO’s and MBS via direc purchase from AIG and its subsidiaries and from the open market (in the case of MBS). On the open market, the Fed purchased $160 billion in MBS, but only $68.5 billion is showing on balance. That’s almost $100b in assets that the Fed owns – nontraditional assets, I might add – that have yet to settle on balance.

To me, the Fed is moving away from traditional liquidity measures – extending bank credit in exchange for narrowly-defined collateral or a slightly extended version (Term Securities Lending Facility and the PDCF), and toward direct purchase of less-liquid assets, or accepting a wider range of collateral linked to consumer and small-business ABS for loans to any U.S. firm that holds the collateral (TALF).

Originally published at the News N Economics blog and reproduced here with the author’s permission.

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