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Is Powell Playing Fed Games?

U.S. Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell speaks during a discussion at the Economic Club in Washington on Jan. 10, 2019. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell speaks during a discussion at the Economic Club in Washington on Jan. 10, 2019. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Is Powell Playing Fed Games?

The Federal Reserve will be adding assets to its balance sheet again, but Powell insists it’s not “quantitative easing”

The Federal Reserve will be adding assets to its balance sheet again, but Powell insists it’s not “quantitative easing”James GorrieWRITEROctober 10, 2019 Updated: October 10, 2019Share

Apparently, the “repo market” purchases by the Federal Reserve we discussed earlier this week —which don’t count as quantitative easing (QE)—were just the beginning of the new, non-quantitative easing but money printing period.

Fed “repos,” you may recall, are now necessary to boost weak overnight liquidity reserves of the big banks and don’t permanently expand the Fed’s balance sheet, unless they go on forever, in which case they would be QE. Now they are more of a short-term bail-out.

It’s Time for “Non-Quantitative Easing”

But in his Tuesday speech, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell explained that for the first time in five years, the “time is now upon us” for the Fed to resume buying U.S Treasury bills and bonds. That means that come November, the American economy will officially enter into another period of quantitative easing, you know, the Fed buying assets to expand its balance sheet.

Or not.

Typically, when the Federal Reserve buys Treasury assets, it’s because of weakness, either in the economy or in the financial system. A weakness that needs to be papered over by money printing, expanding the Fed’s balance sheet and bank reserves. Or the Fed buys other assets that nobody wants to buy at a decent price, like the purchases of mortgage backed securities (MBS) it conducted after the financial crisis.

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