Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Give the Fed a break?

Before we cry, "Off with their heads!" maybe we should take a deep breath and review the numbers:
The week before Lehman Brothers went down, on September 11, 2008, the Fed's assets were about $925 billion. Two months later, the balance sheet had swollen to more than $2 trillion. By the time President Obama entered office in January 2009, the balance sheet stood at $2.041 trillion. That included $350 billion in commercial paper that the Fed was guaranteeing, $416 billion in term auction credit extended to banks, nearly $40 billion in credit extended to AIG, $505 billion in Treasury securities, and a smidgen of mortgage-backed securities ($5.8 billion).
A year later, in January 2010, the Fed's balance sheet was about 10 percent larger, at $2.255 trillion. Yes, the Fed had largely executed its effort to buy $1.25 trillion in mortgage-backed securities. (The balance of MBS stood at $970 billion). But other components of the balance sheet had shrunk: Commercial paper on the Fed's books fell from $350 billion to $14 billion. The amount of term auction credit outstanding stood at $38.5 billion, down from $416 billion the year before. (As this data set shows, term auction peaked at $493 billion in March 2009 and disappeared entirely by April 7, 2010.)
Here is a sober assessment of security purchases, and other debt held by the Federal Reserve (from which the above quote is drawn):
"QE2? More Like QE1.5 -- The Fed’s Balance Shrinks Even As It Expands"

So, maybe the Fed is doing a decent job, and maybe Mr. Bernanke is not the devil incarnate as Republicans would have you believe. And maybe the sky is not falling as a result of QE1&2. QE is short for Quantitative Easing, by the way, and is explained here: Wikipedia --  Quantitative Easing

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