personal views of a former fed trader

Author: Joseph Wang (Page 2 of 4)

Fed Cannot Fight Today’s Inflation

Inflation is on the market’s mind, but the Fed isn’t worried because it thinks it has the the tools to tackle inflation. Raising the funds rate seemed to work in the 1980s, but there are reasons to think it may not work well today. The prior financial landscape was bank centered – raising the funds rate increased the marginal opportunity costs of banks, which discouraged credit creation and thus dampened economic activity. But we are moving into a world where most money is created through deficit spending, which is indifferent to interest rates. In addition, the large stock of high duration fixed income securities pose financial stability risks. Higher rates redistribute wealth between private debtors/lenders, but inflict net losses to investors in public debt as the sovereign does not react to changes in its wealth. These net losses cascade and compound through the financial system in ways that are difficult predict. In this post we further describe these two structural changes that constrain the Fed’s ability to fight today’s inflation.

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The Right LIBOR Successor Emerges

SOFR has long been the anointed successor to LIBOR, but it just hasn’t been very successful despite a maximum pressure campaign from the official sector. GSEs issued a lot of SOFR linked debt, SOFR futures launched, clearing houses transitioned to SOFR discounting, and New York State passed legislation to automatically move legacy LIBOR contracts to SOFR. Yet, LIBOR exposure has grown from $199t in 2016 to $223t today. Amidst the on-going transition, Bloomberg launched its own LIBOR replacement to immediate market support. Although SOFR is great for market transparency, it is ultimately something that the market did not need and cannot use as a LIBOR replacement. In this post we review the official sector’s motivation for dropping LIBOR, highlight the fatal flaws of SOFR and the explain why the Bloomberg Short-Term Bank Yield Index (“BSBY”) is a better LIBOR replacement.

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QE Zombifies Money Markets

QE is intended to put downwards pressure on longer dated yields, but its most obvious impact is on the front end. Repo and short dated bills are pinned around the leaky ON RRP floor, with the zombification spreading up along the bill curve. This outcome stems from of our two-tiered monetary system interacting with the constraints of Basel III. In general, every dollar of QE creates two dollars of money – one dollar of reserves (money for banks) and one dollar of bank deposits (money for non-banks). Banks and non-banks can be thought of as two distinct classes of investors, each with their own constraints and opportunity costs. Banks and non-banks take the new money and rebalance their portfolios. Their eligible investment universe most strongly overlaps at the front end, leading to a flood of investments into money markets. Massive QE eventually pushes all front end rates to the ON RRP floor (or below). In this post we review QE money creation, the investment constraints of the bank/non-bank investor classes, and how the QE experience abroad is a preview of what is to come in dollar money markets.

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Why Are Banks Issuing So Much Debt?

U.S. GSIBs recently issued a torrent of debt, with record breaking issuance sizes from JPM and then BAC. Yet, at the same time we know that the banking system has too much liquidity, and that banks are pushing out poor quality deposits to money market funds, who ultimately pour the excess liquidity down the ON RRP drain. The two behaviors can be reconciled by understanding the very strong regulatory incentives put on GSIBs to issue longer term liabilities. In response to the Financial Crisis, regulators devised a set of complementary regulations (Basel III) aimed at preventing future bank runs by setting limits on the size and composition of their balance sheets. Unsecured long term debt is favorably treated under all those constraints, and is especially compelling at near record low yields. We have already discussed how the Liquidity Coverage Ratio encourages longer term debt issuance. In this post we review the what and why of a few more Basel III constraints: the Net Stable Funding Ratio, GSIB Short-Term Wholesale Funding Indicator, and Total Loss Absorbing Capacity.

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The ON RRP Will Never Be A Floor

The Fed would like the ON RRP to play a bigger role in its rate control framework, but the ON RRP has been and will always be a very leaky floor for money market rates. From 2016 to early 2018, Treasury bills and agency discount notes consistently traded several basis points below the ON RRP. Today, even tri-party GC repo is occasionally dipping below the floor. The floor will only get leakier as money floods into the front end: QE continues to pour $120b a month into the banking system, the TGA continues to decline, and banks continue to shed low quality deposits. In this post we review how the ON RRP transmits policy rates, why the global nature of the dollar system means it will always be a leaky floor, and why even a ON RRP rate adjustment may not protect the 0 percent lower bound.

The ON RRP has been a very leaky floor for money markets
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Taxes Go Up So Rates Stay Down

Advanced economy governments do not need taxes to fund spending. For over 10 years the U.S. has heavily relied on the Fed to finance its ever increasing public spending, with limited effects on consumer prices or the value of the dollar. The same observation can be made in a number of advanced economies. A fiat system that holds the confidence of the public does not need taxes to fund itself (but things change when that confidence is eventually lost). Yet, the Administration is keen on raising personal and corporate taxes to “fund infrastructure.” Another way to view these efforts is simply as a public policy tool to carry out the Administration’s plan on reducing wealth inequality, a byproduct of accommodative monetary policy. In this post we review the policy trade offs in a lower for longer stance, how income inequality leads to asset price inflation, and how taxing the rich in turn moderates asset price inflation.

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Negative Net Yields

Money is being poured into the system, and it has no where to go. The ON RRP is the escape valve, but it is fixed at 0% when money market fund (“MMF”) management fees are around 0.2%. The stars are aligned for continued flow into the money fund space, pushing front end rates towards 0% as it ultimately flows down the ON RRP drain. The Fed will continue to pump $120b/month into the banking system, European bank balance sheets will be less willing to hold additional liquidity under daily average reporting (see this post), and SLR/LCR constraints will eventually bind big U.S. banks (see this post). MMFs have been waiving their fees to keep net yields positive (without waivers Fidelity’s flagship Govie fund would yield -0.09%), but that can’t last forever. Negative net yields are coming. Cash investors are unlikely to idly sit and watch their money evaporate. In this post we outline some options for cash investors, show why the marginal flows will move abroad, and suggest that this is functionally a surgical rate cut.

Fidelity’s $130b Institutional Gov Fund (FRGXX) would be increasingly negative yielding without fee waivers
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The End of Bottomless Balance Sheets is Approaching

Basel III is the global standard for bank regulation, but each country implements it in slightly different ways. Previous posts showed how the SLR and LCR create constraints that impact short-term rates, but different methods of implementing those regulations also affect markets. European banks calculate their leverage ratio in a way that has made their balance sheets significantly more elastic between quarter-end dates. This difference was a key driver of quarter-end dynamics in recent years. But that elasticity is going away in the coming months even as forever QE continues to fill bank balance sheet with reserves. In this post we recap the recent TGA deluge, review how European banks calculate their leverage ratio, and show why the impending end to this loophole will force much higher ON RRP participation.

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SLR Sets Size, But LCR Shapes Composition

It looks like SLR relief is ending, even as the Fed is set to continue turbo QE. A bank’s balance sheet is like an office building – it can only accommodate so many tenants, and the bank wants the best tenants it can get. The size of the building is set by the leverage ratio, and tenants are judged by metrics that include their commercial value and costs. Right now there are many more potential tenants than vacant offices, so banks maximize returns by forcing the least profitable tenants out. As discussed before, banks will use negative rates to do this. The Liquidity Coverage Ratio (“LCR”) is one of the key metrics banks use to assess the costs of their tenants. In this post I sketch out why banks will push some deposits outs, how deposits are judged under the LCR, and where those deposits will end up.

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The BRRR Index

Asset prices rise when there is more money in the system, but you have to understand what ‘money’ is. M1/M2 is not a good measure as it is heavily influenced by Fed policy, which changes the composition of money rather than the overall quantity (see here for a walkthrough). The vast majority of money we come in contact with are bank deposits (the numbers in your bank account). Bank deposits are created by commercial banks when they either make loans or purchase assets. For the institutional investor, Treasuries are money – risk free, highly liquid, and fairly stable in value. Big money cannot just deposit billions at a bank and take unsecured credit risk. Treasuries are created when the Federal Government (“FedGov”) spends more than it receives in taxes. In essence, FedGov has a money printer and pays for its spending by printing Treasuries (see here). In this post, I briefly recap the moneyness of Treasuries, introduce a real time measure of FedGov printing, and explore asset price implications of the recent surge in spending.

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