Monday, March 01, 2010

Beware the fabulous money machine

Spencer Jakab penned an interesting commentary for FT Weekend on the Federal Reserve's $52 billion profit (unaudited) for 2009. Here's an excerpt from that piece, "Beware the fabulous federal money machine":

"Unlike its New York brethren though, the Federal Reserve has a literal licence to print money, minting some $52bn in profit last year and paying $46bn in dividends to its shareholder, Uncle Sam...

“The man on the street doesn’t understand the $46bn earned by the Fed and given to the Treasury,” laments David Kotok, chairman of Cumberland Advisors.

Financial markets do, and it is making them increasingly skittish. The Fed’s profits stem largely from its purchase of mortgage securities, a programme that is slated to end in about a month at some $1,250bn. The first hurdle is weaning the market off this money-printing exercise. That alone could lead to an unwelcome rise in mortgage costs. More daunting will be soaking up the excess cash created before it sparks inflation in the real economy.

The most straightforward and obvious method, selling the securities, would be likely to crush the mortgage market while wiping out its “profits” from the operation to date. Instead, it will be likely to soak up the excess funding in the banking system – a delicate task that could lower inflationary expectations and cement a recovery if done right or spark deflation if botched..."

Jakab goes on to discuss the problems of the likely losing positions on the US Treasury's bailout portfolio, and the fear over what will happen when these artificial props to the economy are removed.

In a housing & lending market now dominated by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, what happens when you can no longer maintain that taxpayer-funded level of support?

Related articles and posts:

1. Fed profits: $52 billion in 2009 - Fortune.

2. How the Federal Reserve earned its profit - Econbrowser.