Redirection of Liquidity, Not Creation of Liquidity

These short-term financing arrangements (TAF & TSLF) are an attempt of the Fed to redirect liquidity from ordinary channels (fed funds and the like), to the short-term funding of banks and dealers with acceptable collateral. Acceptable collateral varies, with differing haircuts depending on the collateral and the financing program. At this point, Agency MBS and AAA whole loans (not on review for downgrade — presumably that means no negative outlooks from any ratings agency) are encouraged.What I find most interesting in all of this how little true liquidity the FOMC has injected in this cycle. The monetary base is flat. What this looks like is an attempt to selectively reflate the economy — help the banks and dealers, but keep total liquidity close to fixed.

And, in the face of this, total bank liabilities keep expanding at a 10%+ clip. It almost feels like any source of liquidity is good liquidity to the banks. Of course, they get a lot of it from the FHLB, which has been the big unconstrained lender in this cycle. Fannie and Freddie may now be able to make larger loans, which loosens up hosing finance a bit, but only the FHLB has the balance sheet to do so in this cycle, and they have done it. Call them the “shadow Fed.” But even their balance sheet is finite, and they are only implicitly backed by the US Government, like Fannie and Freddie.

So where does this leave us? Muddling along. Even the redirection of liquidity will not get the banks and dealers too jazzed, because they are only short term measures, with uncertain long-term funding availability and cost. More attractive than the “free” market for now, but that’s about it.

The Fed is trying some clever ideas. I have just two concerns — what happens when you unwind them, and are they perhaps too clever?  There may be unintended consequences…