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Street Fight: Fed Exit Strategy


Looking for a good brawl. Just head over to Wall Street and start talking Fed exit strategy.

Just make sure you know how to block as well as punch. Because if you start talking Fed exit strategy on Wall Street you’re bound to have guys coming at you from all sides.

It’s a contentious issue, largely because “the expansion of its holdings has caused some to worry that the Fed will be fueling out-of-control inflation,” writes the Wall Street Journal.

In fact, it’s an issue that brought our own Steve Liesman and Rick Santelli to blows. (Of course, it doesn't that much!) Don't believe us?

Check out the video, now!


Of course, we’re just having a little fun. There’s no doubt that it’s quite a serious issue so below you’ll find some of the Fed's exit strategy options outlined in the report to Congress -- alongside some drawbacks discussed by analysts:


By setting the interest rate on reserves the Fed essentially creates a magnet for banks to place those reserves with the Fed rather than lend them out into the financial system -- creating a floor under short-term market rates.

This is because banks generally will not lend funds in the money market at a rate lower than they can earn risk-free at the Fed.

"Raising the interest rate paid on balances that banks hold at the Federal Reserve should provide a powerful upward influence on short-term market interest rates, including the federal funds rate, without the need to drain reserve balances," Bernanke wrote.

A number of central banks around the world have effectively used this tool.

Cons: There could be a political backlash if the Fed was paying banks a significant amount of taxpayer money to push up interest rates. "That payment is perfectly logical from a monetary policy perspective, but it is a disaster from a public relations perspective," according to Bank of America-Merrill Lynch research.


The Fed could arrange large-scale reverse repurchase agreements, or repos, with financial market participants, which would drain reserves from the banking system and reduce excess liquidity at other institutions.

Reverse repurchase agreements involve the sale by the Fed of securities from its portfolio with an agreement to buy the securities back at a slightly higher price at a later date.


Large-scale repos could inflate dealer balance sheets as dealers relend the collateral from the Fed to money market funds, wrote Bank of America-Merrill Lynch analysts.


The Fed could take in more cash from the Treasury through the Supplementary Financing Program. Last fall, the Treasury raised almost $560 billion by issuing SPF bills and held the funds on deposit at the New York Fed to offset part of the ramp up in the Fed's balance sheet at the time. When purchasers pay for the securities, the Treasury's account at the Federal Reserve rises and reserve balances decline.

Cons: This program could push the Treasury quickly toward the congressionally set limit for federal debt. In addition, the bills would increase the Treasury's financing needs at a time of record budget deficits and could fuel the perception that the Fed and the Treasury are not operating independently of each other.

"One limitation on this option is that the associated Treasury debt is subject to the statutory debt ceiling. Also, to preserve monetary policy independence, the Federal Reserve must ensure that it can achieve its policy objectives without reliance on the Treasury if necessary," Bernanke wrote in the report.


The Fed could create a new "term deposit facility" for banks, similar to certificates of deposits (CDS) that banks offer their customers. Bank funds held in term deposits at the Fed would not be available for the fed funds market, he said.

"Such deposits would pay interest but would not have the liquidity and transactions features of reserve balances. Term deposits could not be counted toward reserve requirements, nor could they be used to avoid overnight overdraft penalties in reserve accounts," Bernanke wrote.


The Fed could sell a portion of its holdings of longer-term securities into the open market, Bernanke said.


Large-scale selling of Treasury securities could disrupt markets and potentially hamper the Treasury's ability to issue new debt, analysts said.

The Fed is likely to be very cautious about selling its agency mortgage-related assets for fear of distorting those less-liquid markets.



Other central banks such as the European Central Bank have the authority to issue their own debt as a way to drain reserves.

Cons: The Fed would need congressional authorization and lawmakers, already uneasy about huge bank bailouts, are unlikely to be keen on granting the Fed more powers. Fed borrowing would also compete with Treasury borrowing during a wave of government debt issuance.


The Fed cut reserve requirements in the early 1990s to make banks more competitive with the shadow banking system and could raise them again. By boosting reserve requirements dramatically, the Fed could fuel enough demand to create a working federal funds market even at high levels of reserves.

Cons: It would be an effective tax on the banking system and could make banks less competitive versus non-banks.

"This would be a last-ditch option, as reserve requirements have long been viewed as too blunt a policy tool," said Ed McKelvey, an economist at Goldman Sachs.

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