The Federal Reserve has talked a lot about fighting inflation. But what has it actually done?
In practice, not a lot. It has nudged interest rates up 75 basis points. And while the Fed has ended the massive quantitative easing program that it ran during the pandemic, it pushed balance sheet reduction back from May until June. In fact, the balance sheet has crept upward throughout the entire month of May.
For the second month in a row, the Fed held true to its word and kept the balance sheet relatively flat. In aggregate, the balance sheet expanded by only $2B, though it did reach an all-time high mid-month. The drop to close out the month came as a result of $15B in mortgage-backed securities rolling off in the latest week.
If the Fed is fighting inflation and has ended quantitative easing, why is its balance sheet still going up?
In the week ending April 13, the balance sheet grew by $27.9 billion, hitting a new record of $8.965 trillion. This is up about $3 billion from its previous high in March.
Earlier this month, the Federal Reserve launched its first salvo against inflation, raising interest rates by a quarter-percent. It was a pretty weak shot given 7.9% CPI, but Jerome Powell and other Fed presidents ratcheted up the tough rhetoric last week. Powell raised the possibility of 50 basis-point rate hikes at future meetings and San Francisco Fed President Mary Daly, “With the labor market so strong, inflation, inflation, inflation is top of everyone’s mind.”
The Fed is talking taper. But it seems to be having a hard time actually tapering. The central bank added another $100 billion to its balance sheet in January.
In the calendar year 2021, federal tax revenues surged by an incredible 25% compared to 2020 and were up 22.8% over 2019 (pre-COVID). But the surge in tax revenues was not enough to overcome a record $6.8 trillion in spending, breaking the spending record set in 2020 by 1.6%.
While on the surface, it appears the Federal Reserve asset purchase taper has started, it’s not as easy to prove when you dig into the details.
The Fed is certainly not being as aggressive as they promised, and for good reason. As the Fed leaves the bond market, who will fill the gap? Since 2019, the Fed has quadrupled the Treasury purchases of international holders and has been one of the biggest players in the Treasury market.
Taper? What taper?
Last week, the Fed announced that it plans to speed up the pace of its asset purchase taper. But so far, this taper hasn’t been very impressive. Between Dec. 8 and Dec. 15, the Fed added another 92.1 billion to its balance sheet, expanding it to a record $8.757 trillion.
The Federal Reserve has slightly slowed its asset purchases over the last few months. Was this a trial mini-taper?
If so, the results are not good news for the central bankers over at the Fed.
The Fed balance sheet stands at $8.56 trillion. That’s up by $108 billion from the prior month-end, but down over the past week by $8.7 billion. The chart below shows how the Fed Balance sheet has grown by instrument over the last 18 months.
The Fed balance sheet stands at $8.33 trillion, up $111 billion from the prior month-end.
The chart below shows how the Fed Balance sheet has grown by instrument over the last 18 months. The major surge from COVID can be clearly seen as $2.5T was added within 2 months. The monthly changes since then reflect QE on autopilot.