Fed to start buying Treasury bills to ease money market tensions

8:49 AM October 9, 2019

Summary:

  • Fed’s Powell announced yesterday the central bank would start purchasing Treasury bills
  • This step is designed to boost the amount of reserves in the banking system to avoid turmoil in money markets
  • Buying T-bills should not be likened to quantitative easing, Powell underlined

Federal Reserve Governor Jerome Powell signalled on Tuesday that the central bank would start purchasing Treasury bills in order to boost the amount of reserves in the banking system. Concurrently, Powell stressed it should not be likened to QE. This move is to prevent any future liquidity squeezes, something what we saw at the end of the past month. Keep in mind that the NY Fed is already pumping money into the money market via repurchase agreements (they are being rolled over then, hence we have seen an impact on the Fed’s balance sheet, as evidenced by the chart below).

Moreover, the NY Fed announced on Friday that it would extend through October (actually until November 4) the ad hoc liquidity lifeline. In practice, it could already be seen like a standing repo facility in place, though the Fed has yet to call it officially in this way. By starting Treasury bills purchases the odds for a launch of the SRF have diminished to some extent, however, it could be announced at any time in the future once the central bank fails to soothe tensions in money markets by buying T-bills. In this regard, the upcoming Fed’s meeting later this month ought to be particularly interesting. In response to the Fed’s announcement yields on T-bills declined modestly while yields at the longer-end barely changed.

The Fed’s balance sheet has swollen noticeably as a result of repo operations. Source: Bloomberg

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