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Nerdy thought on the Fed balance sheet

Looking quickly at the Fed balance sheet, I stumbled upon the “off balance sheet” quirk of its mortgage-backed security holdings. The Fed reports this week that its holdings through Wednesday Sept. 2 stand at $625 billion. But we know from the NY Fed data released yesterday that the central bank has bought $817.6 billion MBS so far this year.

The discrepancy, which I had forgotten but a kind source reminded me of, is because the Fed is buying mortgage pass-throughs before they settle, those purchases won’t show up right away. Here is the table that shows there are $164.7 billion MBS essentially off balance sheet. So there’s still a whole lot more coming onto the Fed’s balance sheet, even if they stopped purchasing MBS tomorrow.

Tidbits from the FOMC minutes…

Just going through the FOMC minutes now and there were a couple of interesting bits worth flagging:

Meeting participants again discussed the merits of including agency MBS backed by adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) in the Committee’s MBS purchase program:
Some thought it would be useful to include agency ARM MBS, noting that doing so could reduce
the unusually large spreads between ARM rates and yields on similar-duration Treasury securities—spreads that were far larger than the comparable spreads on fixed-rate mortgages; others saw little potential benefit, given the small stock and limited issuance of ARM MBS, and were hesitant to involve the Federal Reserve in another market segment. The Committee made no decision on purchasing ARM MBS at this meeting.

To buy, or not to buy MBS

It looks like the lines are being drawn within the Fed regarding its massive $1.25 trillion MBS asset purchase plan that’s due to expire at the end of the year.

New York Fed President William Dudley told CNBC earlier Monday that it’s too early to think about pulling back on these programs, and points to market expectations as a big reason the Fed should proceed carefully. The market expects the Fed to buy the full amount and is currently trying to figure out whether there’s a possibility the Fed will extend the program into next year to make for a smoother transition.

Time to get tough with AIG

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It’s time for someone in the Obama administration to read the riot act to Robert Benmosche, American International Group’s new $7 million chief executive.

Since getting the job, Benmosche has spent more time at his lavish Croatian villa on the Adriatic coast than at the troubled insurer’s corporate offices in New York.

The FDIC plays hide the ball too

The Federal Reserve is fighting hard to keep details about the $2 trillion in emergency loans it has made during the financial crisis from seeing the light of day. And now it seems the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. also has started playing the game of keeping secrets from the public.

The American Banker earlier this week reported that the FDIC is holding back on disclosing information about failed bids for troubled banks the government agency has taken over. The industry newspaper reports the FDIC is delaying the processing of Freedom of Information Act requests seeking such information, while the agency reviews its disclosure policy.

Naming banks

A federal judge’s ruling that the Federal Reserve must disclose information about the $2 trillion in emergency loans it made during the financial crisis has been hailed by a number of commentators, including Matthew Goldstein, as a significant victory for transparency and accountability.

But Paul Kasriel, the economist with Northern Trust, wonders if this week’s court decision is a disturbing repeat of a legislative action during the Depression that helped spark bank runs.

The big Fed news

A federal judge’s ruling that the mighty Federal Reserve must release information about some $2 trillion in “emergency” loans made during the financial crisis is a big blow to the central bank’s self-styled image as an impenetrable shrine.

US District Judge Loretta Preska should be applauded for not taking the Fed’s bait that to release information about the banks and financial institutions that received those loans would imperil the financial system. Preska rightfully concludes that the Fed’s fear is based on mere speculation and “conjecture.”

Who’s afraid of deflation?

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christopher_swann1.jpgFor most policymakers, deflation is the stuff of nightmares — scarier even than bank failures and stock market collapses. As the economy stumbled, deflation became Lords Voldemort and Sauron rolled into one.

In recent months, however, this economic supervillain seems to have lost its power to intimidate.

Fed MBS tally jumps to $766.6 billion

The Fed may be paring back its Treasury purchases, but its MBS program heated up this week. The central bank bought a cool $25 billion net, up nearly $5 billion from the previous week. Reuters puts the running tally now at $766.608 billion.

Time for the Fed to stand up to its critics

John M. Berry is a guest columnist who has covered the economy for four decades for the Washington Post and other publications.

By John M. Berry

Financial crises and the policies to deal with them top the agenda at the Kansas City Fed’s Jackson Hole conference. But what is actually going to be on everyone’s mind at the august gathering is the uncertain future of the Federal Reserve itself.

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