David Kirkpatrick

March 19, 2009

The Fed’s printing money

This move could really hurt the dollar, and is seen by many (most?) economists as a true “nuclear option.” Make sure you’re belted in — this ride ain’t over yet.

From the link:

Expectations of Fed buying raised the prices, and consequently pushed down the interest rate yields, on mortgage-backed securities as well as Treasury bonds, which were included in the deal. Stocks rose slightly as well, while the dollar fell on inflation worries. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note plummeted one-half percentage point, to around 2.5%.

“The good news is that the Fed is clearly being a lot more aggressive,” said Desmond Lachman, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “The bad news is that I think it reflects their assessment that the economy is a whole lot weaker than they thought it would be.”

The Fed did not cut short-term interest rates because it can’t—they’re already at virtually zero. The post-meeting statement said the rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee “anticipates that economic conditions are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for an extended period.”

The FOMC statement was full of surprises, albeit in the Fed’s typical bland language. The Fed committed itself to buying another $750 billion this year in mortgage-backed securities issued by “agencies” like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, on top of the $500 billion it had already committed to buying. It doubled to $200 billion the amount of agency debt it will buy this year.

And in a surprising change of direction, the Fed said it will buy $300 billion of longer-term Treasury securities. Up until now, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke had said there was no need for the Fed to buy Treasuries since there was a strong market for them already. The Fed’s new thinking seems to be that it can’t hurt to try a little Treasury buying in hopes that the money will trickle down to non-Treasury securities. It said the goal of the Treasury purchases is “to help improve conditions in private credit markets.”

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