QT or QE: What Is This? – Robert Aro
Leave it to the Federal Reserve to throw a knuckleball when the batter is expecting a fastball. These last few weeks have been just that, with the Fed saying nothing of abandoning their Quantitative Tightening (QT) position while engaging in what appears to be a Quantitative Easing (QE) position.
The general public may be familiar with the term QE, but it’s nothing more than inflationism as public policy, with known detriments as old as money itself. But inflationism or currency debasement doesn’t sound as appealing as Quantitative Easing, and so selling economic destruction as a cure-all is more of a successful branding initiative than anything else.
In the last two weeks, the Fed has almost completely undone a year of balance sheet wind down, conjuring up $400 billion as of last Thursday’s data release.
The problem is that QE or QT is not “economics” per se. There’s no credible theory behind money printing nor are there any guidelines which determine what exactly constitutes these terms.
If the terms QE/QT are broadly given to the direction of the Fed’s balance sheet, then we could say that in the last two weeks, they’ve been doing QE, since the net change to the balance sheet was positive.
However, if the terms are more narrowly defined to only mean the change in US Treasury holdings and Mortgage-Backed Security holdings, then we could say that the Fed is still engaging in QT, since they are still rolling off these securities. The net balance sheet increase has only been due to lending programs that temporarily help banks out of this current crisis.
Yet the magnitude and length of time must also be considered.
On Monday CNBC announced that First Citizens Bank will purchase “around $72 billion of Silicon Valley Bank assets at a discount of $16.5 billion.” The role of the Fed and FDIC is instrumental to this bank merger, with the final cost of the bailout still not known.
The [FDIC] regulator added that the estimated cost of SVB’s failure to its Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) will be around $20 billion, with the exact cost determined once the receivership is terminated.
By simply making available new funding programs for banks and FDIC, it appears the threat of bank runs has subsided, for now. And if we’re really lucky, the Fed’s lending schemes are nearing the end, stopping at only a few hundred billion and not several trillions of dollars.
Again, “if” the money the Fed loaned is paid back promptly, and “if” the banking crisis subsides, the balance sheet should resume its downward trajectory. Then history would consider this as still part of the QT phase. Conversely, if this lending program is only just the start of much longer and larger programs to come, history will show QE began two weeks ago.
Regardless of whether this is QT or QE, we remain in uncharted waters with nothing but a promise of a bigger storm ahead. Should these lending schemes be hailed a success, then it stands to reason that when the next bank fails, the Fed will go back to the same playbook, again and again…
As for what tomorrow brings, no one knows. But Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank Neel Kashkari continues to have no shortage of foresight for the problems he helps create, as told to CBS over the weekend:
He said that banks holding commercial real estate assets could also see losses in the future.
And in his own words saying:
But right now it’s unclear how much of an imprint these banking stresses are going to have on the economy.
Noting that it was too early to determine the impact on inflation.
Clearly the Fed remains on standby, ready and willing to create money to prop up failed banks, at the same time staying committed to reducing its holdings of US government and mortgage debt. And so, the Fed really is the lender of last resort, functioning only in terms of “need” for the big banks. So long as no bank asks for money from the Fed, the Fed won’t give them any. But the minute a bank needs the Fed, the Fed will be there like any other insurance company… with an infinite amount of cash on hand, prepared to inflate dollars at little cost to them, but at a big cost to society.
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