America’s banks have too much cash

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Story by: Norvisi Eyiram Mawunyegah

Link market coming to a halt in spring 2020 was issued with money. A global dash for dollars caused bond yields, which move inversely to pricesspear. And it caused transaction in Reserves, usually the world’s peak liquid market, almost drying up. Today the opposite problem of excess money. It shoots from the Federal Reserve’s response to last year’s crisis.  Newly cash created are used by the central bank to purchase huge quantities of bond. And continuing at a current pace of at least $120bn a month. The lavishness of dollars is causing headaches for banks and investors.

A bond for cash bought by the central bank sounds like a simple swap of asset for asset, In fact swells the banking system. Assuming assets from a pension fund, cannot pay the fund with the electronic money it creates, because only banks can hold these “reserves”. Rather, the fund gets a deposit created at its bank, and gets reserve newly at the Fed .Making it bigger, with liability and a new asset. Same applies when a bank buys recently issued debt at a Treasury auction, then sells it to the Fed.

With devices at work in the pandemic, the Fed’s assets and deposits at banks has increased in tandem. The balance-sheet of JPMorgan Chase, America’s biggest bank, grew from $2.7trn to $3.4trn in 2020 as deposits rose by 35%.

The government’s up-to-date account at the Fed, grew from about $350bn in early 2020 to about $1.3trn on March 11th. The Treasury indicated the balance going down to $500bn by June ending. And current law, passed the last time America’s debt ceiling was lifted, requires the balance to fall to about $120bn by August. The abundance of cash has two effects. Firstly interest rates made high in the federal-funds market. This, banks lend reserves to one another to drift down. Determined to keep the funds rate zero and 0.25%.Federal-funds rate are less important as banks have abundant reserves. But rates in secured lending or “repo” markets, matching more to the real economy, have approached negative territory too. The benchmark secured-financing rate is just 0.01%.

 Secondly effect with lower ratio of equity capital to assets, making it harder to fulfill with minimum capital gauge set by officials. Like the “supplementary leverage ratio”, demanding big banks to fund themselves with worth 5% of their total assets at least. Cash reserves and Treasuries were taken out by supervisors in March 2020.From the “SLR”, recognizing the Fed’s emergency actions, by expanding bank assets, making it bind more firmly, but would expire March ending. Should short-term interest rates go undesirable, safe money-market funds may be forced to “break the buck”, returning to investors less than was put in. A relaxed way for a bank to lose its balance-sheet quickly is by selling assets to investors. An early sign was late February when, a global bond-market sell-off, an auction of seven-year Treasuries suffered record low demand.

 The Fed could raise the rate it pays on reserves, currently 0.1%,Supervisors might outspread the exemption of reserves from the SLR. Two democratic senators on February 26th, Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown, wrote to supervisors urging them to restore the SLR “as quickly as possible”, thinking the pandemic was used as an excuse to weaken reforms made after the global financial crisis.

 A more effectivelimitation might be the extra capital rations that “globally systemically important” banks incur as they grow. Theshortfall of the SLR exclusion may explain why the Fed has expanded another of its programmes. The “overnight reverse-repo facility” allows investors to push money overnight at the central bank in return for Treasuries. If investors put more money at the central bank directly, then banks’ balance-sheets should shrink. The facility is barely being used but the Fed, says Mr. Pozsar, is “foaming the runway”.

Investors having direct access to a central bank’s balance-sheet disintermediates the banks and providing a new phase for money and running easier. Although, draining banks of liquidity might be exactly what is needed for financial stability—the latest example of the mind-bending monetary economics brought about by the pandemic.