Open Market Operations

Robert Wenzel Addresses The New York Fed, Lots Of Head-Scratching Ensues

In the science of physics, we know that ice freezes at 32 degrees. We can predict with immense accuracy exactly how far a rocket ship will travel filled with 500 gallons of fuel. There is preciseness because there are constants, which do not change and upon which equations can be constructed.. There are no such constants in the field of economics since the science of economics deals with human action, which can change at any time. If potato prices remain the same for 10 weeks, it does not mean they will be the same the following day. I defy anyone in this room to provide me with a constant in the field of economics that has the same unchanging constancy that exists in the fields of physics or chemistry. And yet, in paper after paper here at the Federal Reserve, I see equations built as though constants do exist. It is as if one were to assume a constant relationship existed between interest rates here and in Russia and throughout the world, and create equations based on this belief and then attempt to trade based on these equations. That was tried and the result was the blow up of the fund Long Term Capital Management, a blow up that resulted in high level meetings in this very building. It is as if traders assumed a given default rate was constant for subprime mortgage paper and traded on that belief. Only to see it blow up in their faces, as it did, again, with intense meetings being held in this very building. Yet, the equations, assuming constants, continue to be published in papers throughout the Fed system. I scratch my head.

Ben Bernanke Full Unredacted Frontal

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal's Jon Hilsenrath was kind enough to present to the general public some 515 pages of massively redacted Fed transcripts from the oh so very interesting period of 2007-2010, ahead of schedule. Unfortunately those curious to find out the details of just what was going on in that critical period between March 2008 and March 2009 will have to wait another 3 years for the full declassification to take place. That said, digging among the unredacted data, one does find the occasional pearl. Such as the following exchange between CHAIRMAN BERNANKE and the Fed staff, from the October 28-29, 2008 meeting, in the days when AIG was dying, when Lehman had failed, when money markets had frozen and when the end of the world was nigh. Ironically, it is this one unredacted piece of data that pretty much says it all.

  • I’d like first to do the open market operations, which I hope are not too controversial. [Laughter] (source: page 231 of 513)

And that, as they say, is that.

Live Webcast Of Obama Demonizing Oil "Speculators"

After Obama's "fairness doctrine" was roundly rejected by the Senate last night as the doomed from the beginning Buffett Rule was voted down, Obama needs to find some more evil villains for society to demonize, and whom to blame for the failure of central planning, or rather its success in pushing gas prices to all time highs. Today - it is that mysterious, amorphous blob of vile, conspiratorial henchmen known as "oil speculators." Forget that these "speculators" are merely conduits for the Fed to conduct its open market operations, forget that the same free liquidity that drives stocks up relentlessly in nominal terms (what? no demonization of evil stock pumping speculators?), even as it produces ever increasing inflation in all those items not tracked by the Fed, forget that Obama's speech is about to be replica of Jimmy Carter's Crisis of Confidence platitude in 1979. Finally forget that the biggest speculator is none other than the White House with its periodic release of SPR release rumors any time WTI approaches $110. Forget all that, and merely focus on the hypnotic, undulating intonation of the engrossing, populist sermon: that is all that is demanded of you. Everything else is to be ignored. And now since the time of "fairness" is over, it is time to do a shot every time "speculator" is uttered. And get ready for many, many CL margin hikes.

Tail Risk Hedging 101: Credit

With volatility so low and risk seemingly removed from any- and every-one's vernacular, perhaps it is time to refresh our perspective on downside and tail-risk concerns. While most think only in terms of equity derivatives as serving to create a tail-wagging-the-dog type of reflexive move, there is a growing and increasingly liquid (just like the old days with CDOs, so be warned) market for options on CDS. Concentrated in the major and most liquid indices, swaption volumes have risen notably as have gross and net notional outstandings. Puts and Calls on credit risk - known as Payers and Receivers (Payers being the equivalent of a put option on a bond, or call option on its spread) have been actively quoted since 2006 but the last 2-3 years has seen their popularity increase as a 'cheap' way to protect (or take on) credit risk - most specifically tail risk scenarios. Morgan Stanley recently published another useful primer on these instruments - as the sell-side's new favorite wide-margin offering to wistful buy-siders and wannabe quants - noting the three main uses for swaptions as Hedging, Upside, and Yield Enhancement. These all have their own nuances but as spreads compress and managers look for ever more inventive ways to add yield so the specter of negative gamma appears - chasing markets up into rallies and down into sell-offs - and the inevitable rips and gaps this causes can wreak havoc in markets that have momentum anyway. Given the leverage and average notionals involved, understanding this seemingly niche space may become very important if we see another tail risk flare and as the Fed knows only too well (as it suggested here) like selling Treasury Putsderivatives on credit are for more effective at establishing directional moves in the the underlying than simple open market operations.

Antal Fekete Responds To Ben Bernanke On The Gold Standard

Yesterday, Ben Bernanke dedicated his entire first propaganda lecture to college student to the bashing of the gold standard. Of course, he has his prerogatives: he has to validate a crumbling monetary system and the legitimacy of the Fed, first to schoolchildrden and then to soon to be college grads encumbered in massive amounts of non-dischargeable student loans. While it is decidedly arguable that the gold standard may or may not have led to the first Great Depression, there is no debate at all that it was sheer modern monetary insanity and bubble blowing (by the very same professor!) that brought us to the verge of collapse in the Second Great Depression in 2008, which had nothing to do with the gold standard. And as usual there is always an other side to the story. Presenting that here today, is Antal Fekete with "The Gold Problem Revisited."

China Cuts RRR By 50 bps Despite Latent Inflation To Cushion Housing Market Collapse

It was one short week ago that both Australia surprised with hotter than expected inflation (and no rate cut), and a Chinese CPI print that was far above expectations. Yet in confirmation of Dylan Grice's point that when it comes to "inflation targeting" central planners are merely the biggest "fools", this morning we woke to find that the PBOC has cut the Required Reserve Ratio (RRR) by another largely theatrical 50 bps. As a reminder, RRR cuts have very little if any impact, compared to the brute force adjustment that is the interest rate itself. As to what may have precipitated this, the answer is obvious - a collapsing housing market (which fell for the fourth month in a row) as the below chart from Michael McDonough shows, and a Shanghai Composite that just refuses to do anything (see China M1 Hits Bottom, Digs). What will this action do? Hardly much if anything, as this is purely a demonstrative attempt to rekindle animal spirits. However as was noted previously, "The last time they stimulated their CPI was close to 2%. It's 4.5% now, and blipping up." As such, expect the latent pockets of inflation where the fast money still has not even withdrawn from to bubble up promptly. That these "pockets" happen to be food and gold is not unexpected. And speaking of the latter, it is about time China got back into the gold trade prim and proper. At least China has stopped beating around the bush and has now joined the rest of the world in creating the world's biggest shadow liquidity tsunami.

Daily US Opening News And Market Re-Cap: February 10

Heading into the North American open, EU equity indices are trading lower following reports that Eurozone Finance Ministers have dismissed as incomplete a budget presented to them by the Greek party leaders. In addition to that, EU lawmakers have warned Greece of more intensive involvement in the Greek economy to improve tax collection and accelerate the sale of state-owned assets. The Greek Finance Minister Venizelos said that Greece must make a “final, strategic” decision Greek membership in the Eurozone over the next six days as it decides on new austerity and reform measures or faces leaving the single currency. However, according to sources, German finance minister told MPs, Greek reform plans would bring debt to 136% of GDP by 2020, instead of targeted 120%. So it remains to be seen as to whether Greece will be able to meet the looming redemptions in March. Of note, analysts at Fitch said that the ongoing Greece talks stating that the country must secure an agreement to cut its debt burden in the next few days to prevent a “disorderly” default.

How Safe Are Central Banks? UBS Worries The Eurozone Is Different

With Fed officials a laughing stock (both inside and outside the realm of FOMC minutes), Bank of Japan officials ever-watching eyes, and ECB officials in both self-congratulatory (Draghi) and worryingly concerned on downgrades (Nowotny), the world's central bankers appear, if nothing else, convinced that all can be solved with the printing of some paper (and perhaps a measure of harsh words for those naughty spendaholic politicians). The dramatic rise in central bank balance sheets and just-as-dramatic fall in asset quality constraints for collateral are just two of the items that UBS's economist Larry Hatheway considers as he asks (and answers) the critical question of just how safe are central banks. As he sees bloated balance sheets relative to capital and the impact when 'stuff happens', he discusses why the Eurozone is different (no central fiscal authority backstopping it) and notes it is less the fear of large losses interfering with liquidity provision directly but the more massive (and explicit) intrusion of politics into the 'independent' heart of central banking that creates the most angst. While he worries for the end of central bank independence (most specifically in Europe), we remind ourselves of the light veil that exists currently between the two and that the tooth fairy and santa don't have citizen-suppressing printing presses.

Presenting The World's Most Profitable Hedge Fund Ever: FRBNY LP

When one has $2.9 trillion in costless AUM (because if the cost is breached, one just doubles down, especially if one prints the money), it is not all that surprising to generate $77 billion in profits in one year (think of the hubris emanating from that particular year end letter), or even $385 billion in profits in the past 10 years. Yet it is still a stunning number considering the rest of the $2 trillion hedge fund industry lost about 10% in 2011. Which is why we all bow down to what is without doubt the world's most lucrative and profitable generator of P&L in history: the Federal Reserve, which for the second year in a row has printed (pun intended) over $70 billion in profits. And who is the lucky LP? Why the US Treasury of course, which for the second year in a row will pocket all the proceeds from PM Ben's immaculate trading perfection. Of course, there is one caveat for this spotless performance sheet: what happens when Fed interest expense surpasses interest income? But why worry - everyone tells us this can never happen, so it obviously can never happen...

Gross LTRO Liquidity Injection - €489 Billion; Net: - €210 Billion

SocGen explains why the €490 billion LTRO number is misleading and why, net of rolls, the actual new liquidity is about 60% lower. In other news, don't forget to add €210 billion in net "assets" to the ECB's already record balance sheet of €2.494 trillion, bringing it to a fresh new record of €2.7 trillion, or $3.5 trillion. At what point will the market start asking questions of the world's most insolvent Frankfurt-based hedge fund (which has repeatedly said it refuses to print cash to cover capital shortfalls) we wonder.

The Fed - Independence, Yes; But Accountability And Limits?

At this point it is clear that there is no single person in America, and possibly the planet who can influence markets as much as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.  The president may have more overall power (possibly) but in terms of moving markets for weeks at a time, that power primarily belongs to Mr. Bernanke.  An unelected official with almost total control over the “board” he chairs. Some have argued whether the Fed should even exist.  Peter Tchir doesn’t go that far (it is beyond his scope), and it is understandable why the Fed needs some independence.  But we don’t understand why Bernanke isn’t accountable or why there aren’t limits.

rcwhalen's picture

We believe that the issue of primary dealer status – the role of the primary dealers, the significance of foreign firms and their importance in the primary dealer process, versus domestic US firms – needs to be examined. It needs to be aired publically.

Meanwhile "Global Bailout Fallback Plan B" China Is Pumping 1 Trillion RMB Into Its Banks

Yesterday, Barclays' Ben Powell of macro sales sent out the following note to clients, which referenced a as of then unconfirmed report in the China Securities Journal: "China putting 1Tr RMB into its banks?? Very positive no? The attached bloomberg story suggests that China may inject >Tr1 Yuan into its banks deposits before the end of the year. This is a meaningful number vs the Tr7.5 RMB that the banks are expected to lend in 2011 as a whole. So what? 2 things. Most obviously this is cheap liquidity to Chinese banks that should see SHIBOR continue to fall and banks shares to rise. And secondly more broadly this would seem to suggest (again) that the rumours of easing are true. This will add fuel to the soft landing argument that I have been pushing. Remain long Chinese banks on very simple easing + bearishness = up thesis." Granted the Barclays spin was to go long China (incidentally just in time for the biggest drop in the Chinese market since October 20), but the real take home here is that China is now actively pumping money to bail out its own banks once again! And not just token money - €158.2 bilion. So how much money will be left to fund the European bailout which is oh so contingent on Chinese generosity? The short answer? Pretty much nothing, as confirmed by the fact that today's €3 billion EFSF deal was underbid and the underwriters were left holding about €500 million of the total issue. As usual, good luck Europe with your multifunctional Swiss EFSF Army knife.