NY Fed to accelerate bond purchases to keep Treasury market flowing

Greg Nash

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York will purchase $37 billion in Treasury bonds to boost liquidity in the crucial government debt market, it announced Friday.

The New York Fed will offer to complete on Friday nearly half its planned monthly purchases of Treasury bonds to ensure a steady trade in government notes. The Treasury bond market has seized throughout the week amid massive financial sector turmoil driven by the escalating coronavirus pandemic.

“These purchases are intended to address highly unusual disruptions in the market for Treasury securities associated with the coronavirus outbreak,” the New York Fed said in a statement.

The New York Fed will also offer $1 trillion in short-term loans to banks and brokers in exchange for Treasury bonds Friday after offering $500 billion in what is known as repurchase (repo) agreements Thursday. The Fed will eventually be repaid with interest on the loans it offered to banks and brokers in exchange for returning the bonds it purchased.

The New York Fed had been purchasing roughly $80 billion in bonds and other securities each month since mid-October after a crunch in the repo market, often referred to as the “plumbing” of the financial system, raised concerns about a broader systemic issue.

The Fed purchased trillions of dollars worth of bonds during and after the 2008 recession in a bid to stimulate the economy. Even though the Fed began expanding its holding again in October, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell insisted that it was not akin to the three rounds of “quantitative easing” conducted by the central bank during the recession.

The Fed’s escalation of its planned bond purchases for March reflects rising concern about liquidity in the Treasury bond market, which underpins a complex web of credit markets and is crucial to financial stability.

“This is exactly what the Fed should be doing,” said Tim Duy, an economics professor at the University of Oregon, in a Friday tweet

The Fed has dug into a depleted arsenal of tools to stimulate the economy throughout March as financial markets plummet in the face of a sharp economic downturn. The Fed issued an emergency rate cut on March 3, slashing its baseline interest rate range by 0.5 percent to 1 to 1.25 percent.

The Fed is widely expected to cut interest rates further following its March 17-18 policy meeting in Washington, D.C., potentially to zero percent. The Fed cut its baseline interest rate range to zero to 0.25 percent in December 2008, where it remained until the bank hiked by 0.25 percentage points in December 2015.

President Trump has attempted to pressure the Fed into cutting to zero percent for nearly a year despite the strong performance of the U.S. economy until the recent downturn. The president called again for the Fed to slash rates in a Friday tweet,

“The Federal Reserve must FINALLY lower the Fed Rate to something comparable to their competitor Central Banks. Jay Powell and group are putting us at a decided economic & physiological disadvantage. Should never have been this way. Also, STIMULATE!,” Trump tweeted.

Fed officials and economists have warned that cutting interest rates that already close to record lows may do little to power an economy facing a steep and sudden decline in consumer spending. Powell warned lawmakers in February that powerful fiscal stimulus would be necessary to spur the U.S. out of its next recession.

“Putting the federal budget on a sustainable path when the economy is strong would help ensure that policymakers have the space to use fiscal policy to assist in stabilizing the economy during a downturn,” Powell told the House Financial Services Committee on Feb. 12.

Tags Coronavirus Donald Trump economy Fed Treasury bonds
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