Read the Fine Print

An otherwise fine article from the Wall Street Journal starts with this headline:

“New York Fed Starts To Unwind Stimulus”

You might casually read that headline and assume that the Federal Open Market Committee was mighty impressed by the November employment report—and quick to respond with the first stages of a reversal in the stance of monetary policy. The facts lie, however, underneath the headline.

At issue are so-called “reverse repo” operations, described in the article thus:

“In a reverse repo, the Fed sells securities with an agreement to buy them back later at a higher rate…

“Reverse repos are one tool the Fed has at its disposal when the economy and financial markets have improved enough for it to drain cash from the system. The Fed uses short-term repurchase and reverse repurchase agreements to temporarily affect the size of the Federal Reserve System’s portfolio and influence day-to-day trading in the federal-funds market.”

On Thursday, the New York Fed conducted $180 million worth of reverse repo transactions on, as the article points out, “the heels of a series of reverse repo tests that have been done by the bank over recent weeks.” That word “tests” is the key:

“The Fed earlier this week said it would implement small-scale reverse repos over coming weeks but said the operations have no implication for monetary policy. Rather, the Fed said the operations are being conducted to ensure operational readiness at the Fed, tri-party repo clearing banks J.P. Morgan Chase and Bank of New York Mellon, and primary dealers, the lead group of banks that deal directly with the central bank…

” ‘The idea is they want to get all their ducks in a row and be ready (to pull cash) when the time is necessary,’ [RBC Capital Markets interest-rate-strategy group head Ira] Jersey said, adding that there’s no point in doing large scale reverse repos as long as the Fed is still purchasing assets.”

A better headline for the article would surely have been something like “New York Fed Starts to Lay Groundwork to Unwind Stimulus When Time Comes.” It doesn’t exactly sing, but it represents the facts.

About David Altig 91 Articles

Affiliation: Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta

Dr. David E. Altig is senior vice president and director of research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. In addition to advising the Bank president on Monetary policy and related matters, Dr. Altig oversees the Bank's research and public affairs departments. He also serves as a member of the Bank's management and discount committees.

Dr. Altig also serves as an adjunct professor of economics in the graduate school of business at the University of Chicago and the Chinese Executive MBA program sponsored by the University of Minnesota and Lingnan College of Sun Yat-Sen University.

Prior to joining the Atlanta Fed, Dr. Altig served as vice president and associate director of research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. He joined the Cleveland Fed in 1991 as an economist before being promoted in 1997. Before joining the Cleveland Fed, Dr. Altig was a faculty member in the department of business economics and public policy at Indiana University. He also has lectured at Ohio State University, Brown University, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland State University, Duke University, John Carroll University, Kent State University, and the University of Iowa.

Dr. Altig's research is widely published and primarily focused on monetary and fiscal policy issues. His articles have appeared in a variety of journals including the Journal of Money, Credit, and Banking, the American Economic Review, the Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, and the Journal of Monetary Economics. He has also served as editor for several conference volumes on a wide range of macroeconomic and monetary-economic topics.

Dr. Altig was born in Springfield, Ill., on Aug. 10, 1956. He graduated from the University of Iowa with a bachelor's degree in business administration. He earned his master's and doctoral degrees in economics from Brown University.

He and his wife Pam have four children and three grandchildren.

Visit: David Altig's Page

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