An interesting thing happened when we were combing through the Fed's Maiden Lane 1 portfolio. After going through holding after holding of crap, that would make junk indignant if one were to call the Fed's adopted holdings of muni CDS, Subprime mezz bonds, and Agency CMO such, we ended up looking at the rate hedges section. As is disclosed by the Fed, the FRBNY holds 5000 TYM0 puts, 3825 TYH0 puts, short 4000 FVH0, short 7828 TYH0, short 2240 USH0, and is short a bunch of eurodollar positions. Also, the interest rate exposure is in thousands so the Fed has about 3 trillion in notional swap exposure. Now Maiden Lane is supposed to be an adopted, run off (or, as Geithner likes to boast, run on) portfolio, presumably without active management. Which is why we were surprised by the presence of the TYH0 and TYM0 positions: these did not exist at the time the Fed created Maiden Lane I! In fact TYM0 did not exist until March of 2009!
Fair enough - we now know that the Fed is paying Blackrock with our money to manage the interest rate exposure on its Maiden Lane I positions, just so JPM could get a steal on Bear Stearns (oh yeah, and Jamie Dimon is furious today that the Fed not only bailed him but gave him Bear on a silver platter). This means that the Fed paying Larry Fink several million a year to put on some interest rate hedges and some various futures. And for what - to avoid a blow up in a $25 billion portfolio?
What about the bigger picture?
As Jefferies points out today:
One has to ask why the SOMA is spending all this effort with Blackrock to hedge interest rate risks in a $25 billion MBS portfolio when it’s holding $1.25 trillion of MBS assets, plus a trillion of long dated Agency debentures and Treasuries. There is a billion dollars a basis point of interest rate risk in the SOMA.
You read that right, while the Fed is pretending to care about interest rate concerns in an increasing rate environment and is hedging ML1, it has one billion DV01 risk for its house bailout package. This is a stunning number: the second rates commence creeping higher, you can kiss all that profit on TARP and what not not only goodbye, but the losses on the SOMA books will likely destroy America. And yes Virginia, it is negatively convex: once rates start creeping wider, they will accelerate faster and faster until everything escapes the control of Ben Bernanke.
Ron Paul, Alan Grayson, and every other activist in the Congress and the Senate should immediately ask the Fed why is Ben Bernanke hedging its ML1 IR exposure, while leaving its SOMA exposure completely unprotected even when the DV01 is about 100 times greater!!! A 1% move in rates would lead to a $100 billion loss for taxpayers. Should we have a failed auction, or go back to Paul Volcker times and have the 10 year hit over 10%... well, you do the math.
Going back to Jefferies:
I think this whole move on transparency opens up way too many avenues for attack on our venerable Federal Reserve. It’s the most complicated time in monetary policy history and Congress is now on a warpath. This is not good for independence and it’s not good for credibility. Based on what I see the Fed will have tough questions to answer on its management of the SOMA account after this release. And if they are pushed into a corner on interest rate hedging because of this, it gets very interesting…..hedging 1bio/bp basically amounts to one thing - asset sales! Good luck trading.
One can now see why Tom Hoenig has been the voice of reason: unless the IR risk is promptly offloaded to private hands before rates begin creeping higher, and impact a portfolio of rate sensitive products, never before as concentrated as it is now in the clutches of the Federal Reserve, the mindblowing DV01 on America's assets will lead the country to a prompt, and very negatively convex bankruptcy, long before China realizes it should stop bidding on our auctions.
And to simply for those who may be a little confused by the jargon: the Fed's lapdog BlackRock is hedging that which is irrelevant: the smallest portion of the Fed's rate exposure. But because Tim Geithner has a penchant of appearing on TV and saying how well Maiden Lane is performing, the Fed has decided to protect against a major hike in rates. Yet that which is truly relevant, the Fed's nearly $2.4 trillion in holdings of MBS, Agency and Treasuries is completely unhedged. Good luck finding the counterparty that would be willing to put on a $200 trillion gross notional interest rate swap with the Fed. (or maybe one already exists, and since it is off balance sheet for the Fed nobody would ever have a clue. That counterparty would have America by the proverbial testicles). If rates do go up, and if the System Open Market Account holdings are unhedged, hyperinflation Catch 22 - here we come (oh yes, and the Federal Reserve is now a ticking time bomb, which can only be defused by forced asset sales which would be a prelude to wholsesale tightening and an S&P back to 666). Good luck trading indeed.