(Bloomberg) — For all the focus on whether the Federal Reserve is about to pause its interest-rate hikes, there’s another critical policy decision sure to draw plenty of attention come Wednesday: What the central bank does with its massive pile of bond holdings.
The banking-sector turmoil, combined with a previous increase in funding pressures, has left financial markets keenly attuned to what the Fed will say about its $8.6 trillion balance sheet.
Until this month the stash had been shrinking as part of the Fed’s efforts to return it back to pre-pandemic levels. But now it has started to expand again as the Fed acts to bolster the banking system through a slate of emergency lending programs. Its latest step came Sunday, when it moved with other central banks to boost US dollar liquidity.
Some say financial-stability concern may spur policymakers to dial back the runoff of its bond portfolio, a process known as quantitative tightening that’s designed to drain reserves from the system. Still, others argue that even if the Fed does pause its rate increases, the central bank’s overarching goal of taming inflation means it’s unlikely it will signal any shift this week in efforts to shrink the holdings of Treasuries and mortgage-backed debt. The one exception, they note, would be if stress in the banking sector were to become much more severe.
The Fed’s move to backstop US banks “clearly expands the Fed’s balance sheet,” said Subadra Rajappa, head of US rates strategy at Societe Generale (OTC:) SA. If usage of the Fed’s liquidity facilities is “small and contained they probably continue QT, but if the take-up is large then they probably stop as it then starts to raise concerns over reserve scarcity.”
The fate of the Fed’s portfolio is a subject of debate after the collapse of several US lenders led the central bank to create a new emergency backstop, known as the Bank Term Funding Program, which it announced March 12. Banks borrowed $153 billion from the Fed’s discount window — lenders’ traditional liquidity backstop — in the week ended March 15, Fed data show, a record that eclipsed the previous all-time high set during the 2008 financial crisis. They also tapped the new program for $11.9 billion.
The various liquidity programs added about $300 billion to the Fed’s balance sheet last week, reversing about half of the reduction the central bank has achieved since the runoff began last June. But some economists say the two tracks can work in tandem, with the banking efforts targeting financial stability and QT remaining a steady part of the Fed’s plan to remove the support it provided during the pandemic.
“I expect that quantitative tightening will continue,” former New York Fed President William Dudley said in an interview on Bloomberg Surveillance. That program is “very separate and different” from the Fed’s steps to shore up confidence in the banking system, he said.
Even before the trio of lenders failed this month, there were already signs that some institutions needed to access wholesale funding markets to replace deposit outflows, with customers shifting cash into higher-yielding alternatives as the Fed lifted rates. Federal Home Loan Banks’ total advances to members had already more than doubled to $819 billion last year. And until the FHLBs ramped up issuance last week to support member institutions, volumes in the federal funds market — where FHLBs are the largest lender of overnight cash — had reached seven-year highs amid banks’ increased funding needs.
Well before the Fed announced QT, analysts had expected the unwind was going to result in excess liquidity draining faster from the banks than other areas of the financial system, like money-market funds, that have parked more than $2 trillion at the Fed’s reverse repurchase agreement facility. In the minutes of the last central bank gathering, officials even discussed risks of temporary funding pressures.
Still, the Fed’s response to the banking crisis — providing liquidity to lenders — is a wrench in the works for some analysts, who say it risks sending confusing signals.
“The Fed doing its new emergency bank program and QT at the same time is totally contradictory policies,” said Michael Darda, chief economist at Roth MKM. “The Fed is now at cross purposes – working against itself. They are trying to support the banking system on one hand but on the other side they are doing things that will constrain it.”
The counter to the argument that Fed is sending mixed signals is that this new program is more akin to what the Bank of England did last year, when it bought government bonds to stabilize markets — an emergency action as opposed to a broad thrust of monetary policy.
Announcements Sunday that UBS Group AG (SIX:) would acquire Credit Suisse Group AG and that five central banks would take coordinated action to boost liquidity in US dollar swap arrangements increased concern that financial risks may be greater than initially feared. Existing central bank liquidity swap lines with the Fed have been largely untouched amid the most recent market turmoil.
Former Fed Governor Laurence Meyer and his colleagues at research firm Monetary Policy Analytics said in a note Sunday night that they saw a greater chance of the Fed pausing or adjusting its balance-sheet plan after the news.
At the very least, it all stands to make Fed Chair Jerome Powell’s job that much harder Wednesday when he’s likely to face questions about how the central bank’s various policies fit together.
Fed officials haven’t provided a recent timeline for when they expect to wind down QT, but Powell said last month it will be a couple of years until the balance sheet reaches a level where bank reserves are still ample.
Whether that’s still his base case remains to be seen.
“QT is a part of their monetary policy, and so whatever they do with QT is also a signal about what they do about the funds rate and whether they’re going to continue hiking, whether they’re going to hold, how long they’re going to hold and when they start easing,” said Derek Tang, an economist at LH Meyer/Monetary Policy Analytics.
(Adds comments from former New York Fed President William Dudley in 8th paragraph.)
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.
Marketmind: Counting down the $70 billion to a debt deal
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden hosts debt limit talks with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Vice President Kamala Harris and other congressional leaders in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 16, 2023. REUTERS/Evelyn Hock
A look at the day ahead in European and global markets from Vidya Ranganathan
The week draws to a close with pretty much the same buzz around artificial intelligence and U.S. debt diplomacy that it kicked off with.
Stock markets were getting a breather after the excitement over the blowout forecast from chipmaker Nvidia (NASDAQ:) Corp and the follow-through rally in AI-related companies, which powered the Nasdaq’s best day in three weeks.
maintained its momentum, however, after data showed inflation again well above policy targets and as foreign money poured into the market.
But all eyes are on the U.S. debt ceiling debate, where it looks like President Joe Biden and top Republican lawmaker Kevin McCarthy are just $70 billion apart on discretionary spending, according to a person familiar with the talks.
The deal’s going down to the wire, which itself is a moving target. Treasury’s announcement of a slate of bill auctions for early next week had some market participants suggesting the debt ceiling’s so-called “X-date”, when the government runs out of cash, may not in fact be June 1. Figures on Thursday showed that Treasury’s cash balance is down to just $49.47 billion.
The deal is not final, and work requirements for anti-poverty programs are a sticking point as is funding for the Internal Revenue Service to hire more auditors and target wealthy Americans. But funding for discretionary spending on military and veterans is on, as per sources.
Meanwhile, markets are growing less confident that the Federal Reserve will keep rates on hold in June. The CME FedWatch Tool now puts the chances of a quarter-point rate rise to 5.25-5.50% on June 14 at more than 50%.
Main economic indicators on Friday include the U.S. Commerce Department’s personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index figures for April, which could show a small rise similar to March.
Key developments that could influence markets on Friday:
U.S. PCE price index
ECB’s Philip Lane and Croatian central bank Governor Boris Vujcic speak at events
Inflation in Tokyo slows in May, but key gauge hits four-decade high
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A man buys fish at a market in Tokyo, Japan March 3, 2023. REUTERS/Androniki Christodoulou/File Photo
By Takahiko Wada and Leika Kihara
TOKYO (Reuters) -Core consumer inflation in Japan’s capital slowed in May, but a key index stripping away the effect of fuel hit a four-decade high, underscoring broadening price pressure that may keep alive expectations of a withdrawal of ultra-loose monetary policy.
The data for Tokyo, which is seen as a leading indicator of nationwide trends, showed companies continued to pass on rising costs to households in a sign inflationary pressure could last longer than the Bank of Japan (BOJ) projects.
The Tokyo core consumer price index (CPI), which excludes volatile fresh food but includes fuel costs, rose 3.2% in May from a year earlier, government data showed on Friday, roughly matching a median market forecast for a 3.3% gain.
While inflation slowed from the previous month’s 3.5%, it stayed above the BOJ’s 2% target for a full year as steady food price gains offset falling fuel costs, the data showed.
An index that strips away both fresh food and fuel costs rose 3.9% in May from a year earlier, marking the fastest pace of increase since April 1982 when Japan was experiencing an asset-inflated bubble.
“Inflation already appears to be overshooting the BOJ’s forecasts. Prospects of higher wages are prodding more firms to pass on rising labour costs through price hikes,” said Takuya Hoshino, chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.
“Depending on how upcoming data plays out, there’s a chance the BOJ could respond to elevated inflation with a tweak to its ultra-loose policy,” he said.
Separate data released on Friday showed the price service companies charge each other rose 1.6% in April from a year earlier, marking the 26th straight month of gains, as the economy’s re-opening from pandemic curbs boosted tourism demand.
Japan’s economy is finally recovering from the scars of the COVID-19 pandemic, though risks of a global slowdown and rising food prices hang over the outlook for exports and consumption.
With inflation already exceeding its target, markets are rife with speculation the BOJ could soon phase out ultra-loose monetary policy under new governor Kazuo Ueda.
Ueda has repeatedly said inflation will slow in coming months as cost-push factors dissipate, and that the BOJ will maintain ultra-loose policy until stronger wage growth ensures Japan can sustainably see inflation hit its 2% target.
But he told a group interview on Thursday that the BOJ will “act swiftly” if its inflation projection proves wrong, and could tweak policy if the cost of stimulus outweighs the merits.
In a Reuters poll released on Friday more than half of the analysts surveyed expect the BOJ to start unwinding its yield curve control (YCC) policy by end-July, such as by raising the current 0.5% cap set for the 10-year government bond yield.
The BOJ will review its quarterly growth and inflation forecasts at a two-day policy meeting concluding on July 28.
Under projections made in April, the central bank expects core consumer inflation to hit 1.8% in the current fiscal year ending in March 2024. That is much lower than a 2.3% forecast in a poll released on May 15 by think tank Japan Center for Economic Research.
Analysis-Wall Street prepares for Treasuries mess as default looms
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The Wall Street entrance to the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) is seen in New York City, U.S., November 15, 2022. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
By Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss, Saeed Azhar and Davide Barbuscia
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Anxiety is increasing in parts of Wall Street that rely on Treasury securities to function, with some traders starting to avoid U.S. government debt that comes due in June and others preparing to deal with securities at risk of default.
U.S. President Joe Biden and top congressional Republican Kevin McCarthy are closing in on a deal that would raise the government’s $31.4 trillion debt ceiling for two years while capping spending on most items, as a June 1 “X date” approaches for when the Treasury Department has said it could run out of money to pay its bills.
Treasury securities are used widely as collateral across markets. A key question for market participants is how would bonds that are maturing next month be treated if a deal is not reached in time and the Treasury is unable to pay principal and interest on debt.
One such area is the $4 trillion repurchase, or repo, market, for short-term funding used by banks, money market funds and others to borrow and lend. Some counterparties, including banks, were shying away from Treasury bills maturing in June in bilateral repos, where the trade is between two parties, said an executive at a U.S. fund manager who decline to be named. There are 14 T-bills maturing in June.
Scott Skyrm, executive vice president for fixed income and repo at broker-dealer Curvature Securities, said some repo buyers or cash lenders did not want to accept any bills maturing within a year. Skyrm said stress began to appear in the market at the start of May, with some lenders refusing to accept Treasury bills that they perceived as at risk of delayed payments in some types of trades. He declined to name buyers who were not accepting T-bills.
“I don’t think counterparties want to deal with collateral around the X-date,” said Jason England, global bonds portfolio manager at Janus Henderson.
An executive at an independent broker-dealer in the repo market who declined to be named said they were still financing Treasury securities for now. Their focus, instead, was on rewiring their systems in anticipation of steps that the Federal Reserve and Treasury might take to prevent a default. The executive said they expected to work through the weekend to get their systems in place.
At least three big banks that deal directly with the New York Fed in its implementation of monetary policy were also accepting all Treasury securities, three sources familiar with the situation said.
The dislocations in the repo market, a crucial source of funding for day-to-day operations of many financial institutions, come amid growing stress in financial markets as talks drag on in Washington. A default could have devastating consequences, as the $24.3 trillion treasuries market underpins not just the U.S. but the global economic order.
To be sure, a default remains a distant possibility. Many market participants expect the Treasury will be able to continue to pay its bills after the June 1 date as it could conserve cash in other ways to prioritize debt payments.
In the case that it needs to delay payments on some securities that are maturing, expert groups have suggested in the past that Treasury could help markets to keep functioning by extending the so-called “operational maturity date.” The proposal, detailed in a December 2021 contingency planning document prepared by an expert group, calls for extending the maturities of securities at risk of default by one day at a time.
That could allow the security to be technically traded and available for settlement on the Fedwire Securities Service system used for government debt. However, the group warned that it would need many broker-dealers to adjust their trading systems to also be able to do so and the consequences of a delay in payments on securities would still be severe.
The broker-dealer executive said the process was cumbersome because maturity dates subsumed several other calculations about the value of the security. Extending the maturities required the firm to “basically break their own system,” the executive said.
Even so, allowing the security to default would be worse. “If you don’t extend the date, I really don’t know what happens,” the executive added.
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