personal views of a former fed trader

Tag: quantitative tightening

Solvency Constraints

The dollar rally may be set to continue as limits on quantitative tightening bind other central banks before it binds the Fed. The tail risks of QT have first appeared in the gilt market, where significant price volatility prompted official intervention. What appears to be a liquidity issue will ultimately become a financial stability issue as investors discover their “safe assets” are not safe. These concerns may prompt a policy response similar to that seen in Japan, where the price of sovereign debt is explicitly supported. Just as yield curve control led to significant Yen weakness, so a similar move by other central banks would also severely weaken their currencies. This post describes the link between bonds and financial stability, notes the existence of a central bank “put” on bonds, and suggests other central banks would likely cave first.

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The Reserve Gap

A rapid decline in the level of bank reserves would be an obstacle to QT that may prompt action from the authorities. An aggressive QT was premised on first draining the large RRP balances, but the monetary plumbing suggested that was never likely. Banks can easily maintain their own reserve levels, but their own target levels are significantly below those of the Fed. This implies that bank reserve levels will likely fall below the Fed’s comfort level far before QT is slated to end. In this post we sketch out the Fed’s dilemma, show why its options are limited, and suggest that Treasury buybacks or SLR adjustments would likely be used to boost bank reserve levels.

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The Marginal Buyer

Treasury buybacks would be a powerful tool that could ease potential disruptions arising from quantitative tightening. The Treasury hinted in their latest refunding minutes of potential buybacks, which is when Treasury issues new debt to repurchase old debt. Buybacks can be used to boost Treasury market liquidity, but more importantly also allow Treasury to rapidly modify its debt profile. By issuing bills to purchase coupons, Treasury could strengthen the market in the face of rising issuance and potentially structural inflation. An increase in bill issuance would also facilitate a smooth QT by moving liquidity out of the RRP and into the banking sector. This post reviews the basics of Treasury buybacks and explains how it could be an important tool in managing Treasury market stability and Fed liquidity flows.

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Turbo Tightening

The money supply is set to contract just as investors are clamoring for cash to hide from declines in both equities and bonds. A combination of increasing MMF allocation to the RRP and QT may drain ~$1t of bank deposits by the end of the year. The Treasury’s decision to further cut bill issuance will keep money market rates very low and likely push the RRP to over $2.5t by the end of the year. Furthermore, recent history suggests QT will largely be funded by deposits held in banking system rather than the RRP. The combination of these two mechanisms suggests a net contraction in bank deposits despite elevated bank credit creation. Investors looking to hide in cash will have to compete for a shrinking pool of cash by further lowering the asking prices of their assets. In this post we describe the mechanics behind the impending rapid withdraw of cash and suggest the market rout will continue.

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Draining the RRP

The $1.7t in the RRP can help finance the upcoming deluge of coupon Treasuries, but it won’t be easy. Treasury bills will easily be funded, but the bulk of the upcoming supply from net issuance and QT is likely coupons. There are only two ways the RRP can finance coupon Treasuries: 1) funding repo loans to leveraged Treasury investors or 2) funding money fund redemptions to cash Treasury investors. Both mechanisms are subject to frictions that suggest a messy process. Leveraged investors may encounter dealer balance sheet constraints, and cash investors may need a much steeper curve. In this post we describe the two mechanisms and highlight the potential for an “air pocket” in the Treasury market where the marginal buyer is many, many ticks away.

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The Great Steepening

In the coming months a record amount of coupon Treasuries will flood the market even as demand for those securities appears to be faltering. Recent remarks from Chair Powell suggest quantitative tightening will proceed at a pace of $1t a year, double the annual pace of the prior QT. That could imply a process that quickly ramps up to around $700b in Treasuries and $300b in Agency MBS in annual run-off. At the same time, Treasury net issuance is expected to remain historically high at ~$1.5t a year. This implies that non-Fed investors will have to absorb ~$2t in issuance each year for 3 years in the context of rising inflation and rising financing costs from rate hikes. Even the most ardent bond bulls will not have enough money to absorb the flood of issuance, so prices must drop to draw new buyers. In this post we preview the coming QT, sketch out potential investor demand, and suggest a material steepening of the curve is likely.

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Quantitative Hikes

The Fed’s control over interest rates can also be viewed as control over the quantity of a certain type of money. The mere prospect of rate hikes mechanically reduces the market value of Treasuries, which are widely held as money like safe assets. The declines in value are net losses to the financial system that are also unevenly distributed and cannot be hedged system wide. The losses are further transmitted across asset classes as diversified investors rebalance their portfolios by selling other assets. When investors are leveraged and markets are fragile, the rebalancing can lead to significant market volatility. In the coming months the Fed may place further upward pressure along the entire curve by signaling more hikes and aggressive quantitative tightening. In this post we review the mechanics of rate transmission, show how its impact is magnified by high debt levels, and suggest an increasingly aggressive Fed would repeat the 2018Q4 meltdown in risk assets.

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The QT Timebomb

An aggressive quantitative tightening (“QT”) pace would set the stage for another spike in rates, but this time further out the curve. During QT, the U.S. Treasury increases its borrowing from the private sector to repay Treasuries held by the Fed. While the Fed can be repaid with cash held in either the RRP or banks, the current issuance structure suggests repayment will largely come out of the banking system. The lesson of the prior QT was that reducing the cash balances of banks directly impacts markets that were recipients of that cash. In 2019, banks were pouring their extra cash into the repo market amidst surging demand for repo financing. The repo market broke when QT siphoned that extra cash away. This time around banks have poured their cash into Treasuries and Agency MBS amidst surging issuance. In this post we explain why QT will primarily drain bank cash balances, review the September 2019 repo spike and suggest that the stage is set for a potential spike in longer dated rates.

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Quantitative Tightening Step-by-Step

This post describes the mechanics behind quantitative tightening (“QT”) and reviews the prior QT experience. In our two-tiered monetary system, it is helpful to view QT through a framework that takes into account the perspectives of Banks (those who have a Fed account) and Non-Banks (those who don’t have a Fed account). Mechanically, QT reduces the level of cash held by Banks (reserves) and changes the composition of money held by Non-Banks (more Treasuries and fewer bank deposits). The Fed is unsure how low Bank reserve levels can fall before impacting the financial system, so it executes QT at a measured monthly pace. The prior QT experiment began in late 2017 and ended in September 2019, when a sudden spike in repo rates panicked the Fed into restarting quantitative easing.

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