The Fed's Choice: A Balance Sheet That Is $4.5 Trillion Or $5 Trillion... Or Much More
Now that an October taper is out of the question, bored investors, in a world in which fundamentals no longer matter, are looking forward to the next possible FOMC meetings and potential taper announcement dates, with three specific dates sticking out: December/January, which are really one cluster, and June, as possible announcement dates. Why are these dates important: because while a September tapering announcement would have resulted in a $4 trillion final Fed balance sheet (assuming the tapering proceeded to a full QE halt) before even more QE was unleashed, any subsequent taper dates imply a nice round number to the final Fed balance sheet at the end of 2014: either $4.5 trillion, assuming a January 2014 taper, or $5 trillion if the Fed waits until June to announce a tapering.
This can be seen on the following chart from Bank of America.
Markets will be especially focused on the discussion around the timing and conditions of tapering. Our Chart of the day illustrates three scenarios, the first of which is a useful reference despite not actually happening: a September 2013 start to tapering that follows the June “framework” laid out by Chairman Ben Bernanke for a mid-2014 end to asset buying. In that case, the Fed’s asset holdings would have grown to around US$4tn. A January start and a slower pace of unwind results in nearly US$4.5tn in Fed assets, while a June start (and similar slow pace to conclude) yields nearly US$5tn. Those are sizable differences.
Another way of seeing the change in market expectations, is the following chart which shows what the current tapering path looks like.
There is of course an increasingly likely third possibility: forget $4.5 or $5 trillion - with increasing chatter of a Fed that is prepared to unleash NGDP targeting, or as it is better known without its technical term: even more turbo printing in an attempt to unanchor future 2% inflation expectations, the Fed's balance sheet may just grow forever and ever.
And with every passing day in which the Fed demonstrates a complete lack of concern about the collapsing pool of high quality collateral which the Fed monetizes at an ever faster daily net basis, this becomes the most probable outcome.
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