Fed easing continues

Quantitative easing (QE3) ended in the second half of 2014 after the Fed announced it would taper asset purchases in December 2013. The graph below shows that total assets leveled off at $4.5 trillion and have been maintained at that level since.

Fed Total Assets and Excess Reserves on Deposit

But the graph also shows that the Fed continues to drip-feed the financial system by running down excess reserves on deposit from a high of $2.7 trillion in August 2014 to $2.25 trillion in August 2016.

Commercial banks are required to hold certain reserves at the Fed but in times of financial stress will deposit excess reserves at the Fed, when trust in the interbank market breaks down. The Fed commenced paying interest on reserves in October 2008 and increased the rate to 0.50% in December 2015. This has encouraged banks to retain excess reserves at the Fed where they earn a risk-free rate of 0.50%.

Fed Total Assets and Excess Reserves on Deposit

By raising or lowering the rate payable on excess reserves the Fed can attract or discourage deposits, tightening or easing the availability of funds in the interbank market. Banks have withdrawn $450 billion in excess reserves over two years, which suggests that they can achieve more attractive risk-reward ratios elsewhere. The Fed has not responded, indicating that they are happy for this back-door easing to continue.

Only when the red and blue lines in the first graph converge will the Fed have commenced monetary tightening. That still appears some way off.