Pressure is mounting on the Federal Reserve to ease the strain on US money markets after the central bank was forced to intervene on Thursday for the third time using a type of operation it last resorted to during the financial crisis a decade ago.
(Reuters) – As if the U.S. Federal Reserve did not already have enough on its plate heading into its meeting on interest rates this week, chaos deep inside the plumbing of the U.S. financial system has thrown policymakers an unexpected curveball.
Cash available to banks for their short-term funding needs all but dried up earlier this week, and interest rates in U.S. money markets shot up to as high as 10% for some overnight loans, more than four times the Fed’s rate.
That forced the Fed to make an emergency injection of more than $125 billion over the past two days, its first major market intervention since the financial crisis more than a decade ago, to prevent borrowing costs from spiraling even higher. While the effort restored a measure of order to the short-term bank funding market, it was not enough to stop the Fed’s benchmark lending rate from rising on Tuesday above its targeted range of 2.00% to 2.25%.
The exact cause of the squeeze is a matter of some debate, but most market participants agree that two coincidental events on Monday were at least partly to blame. First, corporations had to withdraw funds from money market accounts to pay for quarterly tax bills, and on the same day the banks and investors who bought the $78 billion of U.S. Treasury notes and bonds sold by Uncle Sam last week had to settle up.
On top of that, the reserves that banks park with the Fed and are often made available to other banks on an overnight basis are at their lowest since 2011 thanks to the central bank’s culling of its vast portfolio of bonds over the past few years.
A number of financial institutions overextended themselves, and so the Fed exerts its role as “lender of last resort” and bails them out.
In a more cutthroat version of capitalism, interest rates would rise to attract more private capital, and along the way, a number of bankruptcies of weak or poorly run institutions would likely occur.