Sunday , 19 May 2024

The Paradox of QE: If It Is Successful the Federal Reserve Will Fail & Plunge U.S. Into New Fiscal and Political Crises

So writes Mark Sunshine ( in edited excerpts from an article* posted on Seeking Alpha under the title The Fed’s Big Secret – Quantitative Easing Isn’t Free.

This article is presented compliments of (A site for sore eyes and inquisitive minds) and (Your Key to Making Money!) and may have been edited ([ ]), abridged (…) and/or reformatted (some sub-titles and bold/italics emphases) for the sake of clarity and brevity to ensure a fast and easy read. Please note that this paragraph must be included in any article re-posting to avoid copyright infringement.

Sunshine goes on to say in further edited excerpts:

When growth is strong enough for interest rates to increase there won’t be many policy choices. The Fed is going to lose money, and since the Fed has built up a $3 trillion balance sheet, likely a lot. [Furthermore, since] it carries the full faith and credit of the United States of America, like it or not, the Fed cannot be allowed to fail.

What the Fed has been downplaying is the paradox of quantitative easing. When the economy is underperforming and demand is insufficient to create sustained inflationary pressure, the Fed produces a profit, which it distributes to the Treasury and is used to lower the deficit. That is what’s happening now. The Fed is subsidizing the rest of Washington.

The Fed makes money because it borrows in short-term money markets at very low cost and uses its borrowed funds to buy trillions of dollars of long-term fixed rate bonds at higher yields. The Fed pockets the difference between the cost of its borrowing and the yield on its bonds. Currently, the Fed is making about $85 billion a year from its “borrow short and invest long strategy.” If the Fed balance sheet grows even bigger, it could make even more.

However, there is no free lunch in banking and the reason that the Fed is making money is because it is taking on a lot of interest rate risk. In fact, it is taking on more interest rate risk than any public or private institution since forever.

The interest rate risk problem kicks in when the economy recovers and interest rates rise, which is sure to happen sooner or later. When the inevitable occurs, the cost of Fed borrowings will go up but its bond yields will remain static. At first the Fed will earn less and less and then as rates keep going up it will start to operate at a loss. Even worse, the market value of its assets will decline causing mark to market losses.

That’s the paradox of quantitative easing – if quantitative easing works and demand increases – [is that] the Fed is destined to lose a lot of money and probably bust the Federal budget. The Fed is only safe from losses if quantitative easing fails and the U.S. remains in perpetual economic stagnation.

How big a tab has the Fed run up? Between operating losses and mark to market losses the bill may be in the hundreds of billions of dollars and possibly over a trillion dollars. An increase of 2.00% in the Federal Funds rate will likely push the Fed into the red and a rapid increase of 4.00% in the Federal Funds rate will create horrific losses that will shock the consciousness of even the most ardent Fed fans. Unfortunately, because of the size of the Fed’s balance sheet what seemed like a manageable problem when quantitative easing started is now a ticking time bomb.

If the Fed were a private institution, or had a smaller balance sheet, it could buy hedges and swaps as protection from rising interest rates. However, the Fed isn’t a private institution and its balance sheet is much too large to hedge. Just imagine the Fed trying to collect on a few trillion dollars of interest rate swaps and in the process killing off too-big-to-fail banks.

Also, there is no realistic way for the Fed to sell off its portfolio of bonds and mortgages to avoid loss. While the Fed can sell some of its bonds, as a practical matter its $3 trillion balance sheet cannot be liquidated. It’s just too large to liquidate.

It belatedly occurred to members of the Fed’s policy making apparatus in their December meeting that an infinite increase in the size of the Fed’s balance sheet may not have been their best policy idea. According to Fed minutes, policy makers are divided on when to stop growing the balance sheet. Media sources have reported that some Fed policy makers are now wondering how they will exit quantitative easing without taking losses.


Bernanke needs to get ahead of this problem before his cherished institution becomes a Congressional ward, and the process begins with communication. Unfortunately, the economic education process isn’t quick, it isn’t easy and it may fail. Even worse, it isn’t in the DNA of Fed technocrats to provide easy to understand information about what it likely to happen and how big the quantitative easing bill maybe.

Perhaps Bernanke unintentionally took the path of least resistance by neglecting to mention that there is a cost to Fed monetary policy. Or, maybe Bernanke is more of an economist than a politician and communications aren’t his strong suit. Either way, Bernanke has set up the next Fed Chairman for the political fight of a lifetime.

Editor’s Note: The author’s views and conclusions are unaltered and no personal comments have been included to maintain the integrity of the original article. Furthermore, the views, conclusions and any recommendations offered in this article are not to be construed as an endorsement of such by the editor.


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  1. When the Fed/Gov’t.’s starts giving “regular people” loans for 1% over what they loan money to the Big Banks for, then we will see change; until then we will just see ever more fiscal B$ and the problem will continue to get larger, faster!

    I expect to see many more people shift the majority of their holdings overseas, that way if a collapse suddenly occurs, those with large amounts of money can “retire” to that Country and then decide if they want to continue to pay taxes in the USA with their PM, the foreign currency or their stash of Dollars, or just change Citizenship, which might be less costly for them!

  2. It is as if everyone in the over-crowded “theater” smells smoke but nobody wants to be the first person to start a panic, so they all focus on the “show” and …