$242 Billion: That Is How Much Record "Window Dressing" Banks Got Today Thanks To The Fed
The last time banks scrambled to pad their books into the quarter end, and come begging at the front door of the NY Fed's Liberty 33 office, was on the last day of Q4 and 2013, when nearly $200 billion in Treasurys were handed out by the Fed to over 100 counterparties in what was the largest reverse repo operation conducted by Ben Bernanke, and his brand new Fixed-Rate Reverse Repo operation, in history.
That was the record until today, when just over an hour ago the Fed disclosed that as part of its most recent reverse repo operation, it had handed out to 93 dealer banks and other financial intermediaries, both foreign and domestic, some $242 billion in Treasurys in what is now the biggest reverse repo operation in history, a privilege for which the collateral-starved banks paid the Fed the king's ransom of 0.05% in annual interest, i.e., nothing.
So while hedge funds, speculators and assorted vacuum tubes are rushing all day to bid up all the overvalued stocks they can find in order to make their quarter end P&Ls appear more attractive to LPs even as the early ramp and late selloff is again set to resume tomorrow, the megabanks too were rushing to the "window dressed" safety of Treasurys in order to make their balance sheets appear more attractive to regulators and supervisors, in a world in which high quality collateral is much more valuable than the Fed's fungible reserves, and which helps indicate much higher capitalization ratios than otherwise would be observed at the collateral-starved banks.
But what today's off the charts reverse repo really shows us, aside from the fact that all the reverse repo operation really is, is a way for the Fed to make bank balance sheets appear far better than in reality (for all those still confused), is that the collateral shortage we have been warning about for the past several years, and which is getting only more acute the longer the Fed soaks up all 10 year equivalents from the Treasury market (of which it now holds 35% and rapidly rising), is getting worse for banks.
And in related news, one should consider that tomorrow - with their books well padded for the March 31 daily security "holdings" - the banks will almost certainly unwind over $100 billion if not more of today's reverse repo, an amount that is now equal to nearly two full months of QE. Where that money will go, only the (NY) Fed and a few bank CEOs know.
Then again none of this should come as a surprise - we said precisely this during our last such window dressing observation, to wit:
In short: collateral window dressing on; collateral window dressing off, all with the blessing of the banks' overarching regulator, the Federal Reserve. What is most disturbing is that both the world's largest financial firms, and by implication the Fed, just admitted there is a massive collateral shortage currently if banks are forced to pad their books to the tune of nearly $200 billion in "high quality collateral" just to pass year-end auditor muster.
Today's record quarterly window dressing merely confirmed precisely this.
So while the Fed can provide on both an orderly and on an emergency basis up to the total amount of Treasurys it holds on its entire balance sheet amounting to $2.3 trillion (as of today), what will happen if banks find themselves needing to urgently satisfy $2.4 trillion, or $2.5 trillion, or $5 trillion, or more in Treasury deliverable demands, as collateral chains suddenly collapse on themselves as they did the day after Lehman's bankruptcy and rehypothecated Treasurys, not to mention re-re-re-rehypothecated Treasurys have to be delivered once those infamous "off the books" repo and reverse-repo operations suddenly find they aren't quite netting each other off, as we have also been warning for years.
We hope not to have to find out, at least not for some time, because the outcome would make the Lehman aftermath seem like a walk in the park.
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