NY Fed conducts first overnight repo in 10 years as rates surge

The last time that the New York Fed had to inject liquidity into financial markets via overnight repo operations was during the 2008 global financial crisis, when concerns over Bear Sterns and Lehman Bros were threatening to bring the financial system to its knees. From The Street:

The New York branch of the U.S. Federal Reserve said Tuesday that it was prepared to add as much as $75 billion in cash to broader markets in order to hold the Fed’s key rate inside its target range.

The so-called Repo operation, during which twenty four Primary Dealers in the Fed system can exchange eligible collateral, such as U.S. Treasury bonds or mortgage-backed securities, for cash. The move comes amid a massive surge in the price of what is known as ‘general collateral”, which is normally the cheapest batch of securities that banks use to pledge against cash, or other assets.

The costs for borrowing general collateral, often referred to as GC, spiked by 2.5% on Monday, and was followed by a 6% surge today, taking the price to as high as 8.75% at one point, some 6.5% higher than the upper-end of the Fed’s target rate range.

The Fed’s announced operation, however, pushed that overnight rate back down to 0% shortly after it was launched….

Steven Bartholomeusz at The Age suggests that the liquidity squeeze may be an anomaly:

There was an unusual confluence of events in the past few days that may have exacerbated underlying structural problems within the market.

US companies paid their quarterly taxes on September 15. They often prepare for the payment by parking the funds in short term money market fund accounts to generate a return.

The payments of those taxes, estimated at more than $US100 billion, meant a large amount of cash was withdrawn from those funds, which are a source of the cash for repo deals.

At almost the same time there was a settlement of auctions of about $US78 billion of Treasury bonds. With only about $US24 billion of bonds maturing at the same time that meant about $US54 billion of net cash was drained from the market to pay for those bonds.

The Financial Times’ Alphaville blog posited another strand to the explanation for the dollar shortage, albeit one it described as “highly speculative,’’ suggesting that the severe spike in oil prices after the drone attacks on Saudi Arabia’s most important oil processing complex might have triggered margin calls in oil futures markets, forcing a frantic scramble for US dollar-denominated cash.

Quarterly tax payments are a regular occurrence and the markets are accustomed to dealing with them as part of the quarterly cycle. Large fiscal deficits causing a net issue of $54 billion in Treasuries is a more likely culprit. The first rule of margin calls is never meet a margin call, so that seems an unlikely cause, but the spike in oil prices may have impacted elsewhere on financial markets.

We need to be on the lookout for a repeat. Demand for cash is surging. The graph of broad money (MZM plus time deposits) below shows a surge in broad money ahead of the last two recessions. And another worrying rise this year.

Broad Money: MZM plus Time Deposits