I Knew It: 61% of Treasuries Purchased by the Fed

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 4/12/2012 09:08:00 AM
What do you get when you cross the soppy Bushite Lee Greenwood with Obama's pastor? For one thing, you get a more accurate (financial) portrayal of the current state of that benighted land:

I'm cowed to be an American
Where at last I know I'm unfree
And I won't forget Uncle Ben
Who sold me into debt slavery

You can modify the rest of the lyrics accordingly--especially with Jeremiah Wright's trademark catchphrase replacing the title of the Greenwood tune. Anyway, this lyrical reassessment was brought about by a TIME feature I read recently that revealed the lie behind the "deficit's don't matter because US borrowing rates are so low" favoured by assorted (and rather ignorant) USA #1-style cheerleaders who inhabit the blogosphere.

As it turns out, the Federal Reserve flow of funds report for the entire year of 2011 reveals how "strong" demand is in the "market" for US treasuries. With 61% of Treasury purchases accounted for by Federal Reserve buying, both terms in quotation marks are cast in doubt. Yes, we know that open market purchases of treasuries are the result of policy decisions. But no, we did not know the cumulative extent of these purchases viewed in annual terms.

The proper analogy is one I made before: It's like calling your kid a "great salesman" after setting up a lemonade stand....only for the rest to find out that nearly two-thirds of all his "sales" came from you. So it is when monetary authorities justify currently bedraggled  American finances via some variation on the "deficits don't matter because US borrowing rates are so low."

The questions I would like to see answered are following:

(1) If demand from foreigners for Treasuries is so great anyway since the US is providing a "safe haven" through "liquidity services," why is there a need for another arm of government to undertake such large-scale purchases? Why make the state do what the market would do by itself?

(2) Related to (1), there is also a concern about bloating the balance sheet of the Fed. Why needlessly do so if others would willingly lap up these securities?

(3)  Lastly, would rates be this low if the Bernanke Fed deemed it unnecessary to make purchases on this scale?

The upshot is that they are intervening so heavily because they know the market, left to its devices, will not likely depress Treasury yields to a similar extent. The market-clearing price is, in all likelihood, significantly higher. The unprecedented expansion of public debt is thus matched by the unprecedented gaming of the market for these securities. The corollary to unparalleled indebtedness is unparalleled subvention of market forces. There's no need for Obama's pastor to damn America in speech when you have monetary authorities doing so in deed. The latter is certainly worse.

I guess the joke's on you, factually challenged America #1 cheerleaders, for nobody's quite as interested in your dollar-denominated detritus than yourselves. On my part and the rest of us who don't support your folly, you're more than welcome to it.