April 30 (Reuters) – The Federal Reserve’s balance sheet increased to a record $6.70 trillion this week, but the pace of expansion slowed dramatically as key credit markets have calmed since a firestorm of volatility sparked by the coronavirus pandemic drove the central bank to take emergency measures last month.
The central bank’s balance sheet as of Wednesday was about $81.75 billion higher than the $6.62 trillion a week earlier, data released by the Fed on Thursday showed. It was the smallest increase in seven weeks and was just a fraction of the record $586 billion weekly increase in late March.
In all the Fed’s stash of assets is up nearly 60% from just $4.2 trillion in early March, when it slashed interest rates to zero, restarted bond purchases and rolled out an unprecedented range of programs to keep credit flowing and shore up business and household confidence as the outbreak forced a wave of stay-at-home orders across the country, torpedoing economic activity.
When the government’s wildly popular program to cover small businesses’ overhead costs during the coronavirus pandemic came back online on Monday, thousands of Main Street businesses were lined up for the 10:30 a.m. starting pistol.
By 1 p.m. on Tuesday, banks had shoveled $52 billion dollars in federally backed small business loans out the door. By the close of business on Wednesday, more than $90 billion had been doled out. Struggling companies’ intense need for capital has had bankers across the country working around the clock to process loan applicants’ paperwork — and fighting government servers that keep crashing under the demand.
The small-business program, branded the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), is one of the biggest cash injections to the U.S. economy in history. The program’s first $349 billion in funding ran out in 14 days, and the second tranche of $310 billion, approved last week, is on track to do the same. The money is being loaned out by 5,300 separate banks without much direction from Washington other than to get the cash moving.