Crescenzi: Banks Sitting on $1 Trillion Cash

I noted recently the massive increase in the amount of excess reserves held at Federal Reserve banks by the nation's banks, money that basically is just sitting there, earning practically nothing.

Excess reserves are monies held at the Fed in excess of the banking sector's reserve requirements. In the week ended December 17th, banks had $774 billion in excess reserves, gigantically more than the customary total of just a few billion dollars.

The money is the result of the Federal Reserve's massive liquidity injections. Another way to gauge excess reserves is to look at the cash balances of commercial banks, which can be found in the Federal Reserve's H.8 release, the Fed's weekly report on the assets and liabilities of commercial banks. In Friday's release, cash balances held by commercial banks topped $1 trillion for the first time, reflecting cash balances held at the Fed. Pre-Lehman, cash balances tended to hover around $300 billion, with an annual growth rate of less than 1% per year.

The Federal Reserve's curse on cash, hexed as it was last week with the Federal Reserve's Zero Interest Rate Policy (ZIRP), will eventually pressure banks to use the cash, as net interest margins on loans are far more attractive than the return on cash. Of course, banks need to feel safe that default rates will be low enough to make the foray seem attractive. In due time.

(George Dowd, New Edge and Gary Kaminsky, former Neuberger Berman managing director discuss Crescenzi's note in the video).

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Tony Crescenzi
Tony Crescenzi

Tony Crescenzi is the Chief Bond Market Strategist at Miller Tabak + Co., LLC where he advises many of the nation's top institutional investors on issues related to the bond market, the economy and other macro-related issues. Crescenzi makes regular appearances on financial television stations such as CNBC and Bloomberg, and is frequently quoted across the news media. He is also the author of the forthcoming book, "Investing from the Top Down," "The Strategic Bond Investor," and co-author of the 1200-page book "The Money Market."Crescenzi is a contributor to"