Yesterday, when looking at the details of the Fed's ongoing QE4, we pointed out that the New York Fed was now actively purchasing T-Bills that had been issued just days earlier by the US Treasury, and which settled the day of the permanent open market operation, or POMO.
As a reminder, the Fed is prohibited from directly purchasing Treasurys at auction, as that is considered "monetization" and directly funding the US deficit, not to mention is tantamount to "Helicopter Money" and is frowned upon by Congress and established economists. However, insert a brief, 3-days interval between issuance and purchase... and suddenly nobody minds. As we summarized:
"for those saying the US may soon unleash helicopter money, and/or MMT, we have some 'news': helicopter money is already here, and the Fed is now actively monetizing debt the Treasury sold just days earlier using Dealers as a conduit... a "conduit" which is generously rewarded by the Fed's market desk with its marked up purchase price. In other words, the Fed is already conducting Helicopter Money (and MMT) in all but name. As shown above, the Fed monetized T-Bills that were issued just three days earlier - and just because it is circumventing the one hurdle that prevents it from directly purchasing securities sold outright by the Treasury, the Fed is providing the Dealers that made this legal debt circle-jerk possible with millions in profits, even as the outcome is identical if merely offset by a few days"
So fast forward to today, when the Fed conducted its latest T-Bill POMO in which, as has been the case since early October, the NY Fed's market desk purchased the maximum allowed in Bills, some $7.5 billion, out of $21.9 billion in submissions. What was far more notable, were the actual CUSIPs that were accepted by the Fed for purchase. And here, once again, we find two particular issues that stick out: UB3 (due July 2, 2020) which was the most active CUSIP, with $5.245BN purchased by the Fed, and TM1 (due April 2, 2020) of which $1.2BN was accepted.
What's so special about the highlighted CUSIPs? Well, just as we first showed yesterday, the Fed - together with the Primary Dealers - appears to have developed a knack for monetizing, pardon, purchasing in the open market, bonds that were just issued. And sure enough, TM1 was sold just earlier this week, on Monday, Dec 30, with the issue settling yesterday, on Jan 2, just one day before today's POMO, and Dealers taking down $15.9 billion of the total issue...
... and just a few days later turning around and flipping the Bill back to the Fed in exchange for an unknown markup.
What about UB3, which was the most actively purchased CUSIP in today's POMO, representing 70% of the entire $7.5 billion operation? Exactly the same, as this particular 182-Bill was auctioned off on Dec 30, and settled on Jan 2, also one day before today's POMO. Here, too, Dealers were most active, taking down $23.5 billion of the entire auction... and just days later selling 22% of their entire takedown, or $5.245BN back to the Fed.
These are not isolated incidents as a clear pattern has emerged - the Fed is now monetizing debt that was issued just days earlier, only because it was held however briefly by Dealers, who are effectively inert entities mandated to bid for debt for which there is no buyside demand, it is not considered direct monetization of Treasurys. Of course, in reality monetization is precisely what it is, although since the semantic definition of the Fed directly funding the US deficit is violated by a temporal footnote, it's enough for Powell to swear before Congress that he is not monetizing the debt.
Oh, and incidentally the fact that Dealers immediately flip their purchases back to the Fed is also another reason why NOT QE is precisely QE4, because the whole point of either exercise is not to reduce duration as the Fed claims, but to inject liquidity into the system, and whether the Fed does that by flipping coupons or Bills, the result is one and the same.