The Federal Reserve said on Friday that it will start buying about $60 billion per month in Treasury bills to ensure “ample reserves” in the banking system, but emphasized the new program does not mark a change in monetary policy.
The purchases, which will begin October 15, respond to recent disruptions in short-term money markets that pushed the target federal funds rate to the top of its target range, and at least once above it. The “technical” program, which Fed Chair Jerome Powell had signaled earlier this week was on its way, will continue at least until the second quarter of 2020, the central bank said.
The central bank also said it would continue to inject cash into overnight lending markets until January by offering daily operations in the market for repurchase agreements, or repos. But it said that the balance sheet expansion is meant to wean money markets off of the daily operations by bringing reserves to a level that accommodates economic growth but is also enough to absorb any spikes in demand.
But the size of the monthly Treasury purchases will be adjusted as the Fed learns more about how much liquidity is needed in the banking system.
The US central bank began offering daily repo operations in mid-September after the repo rate, which is viewed as a measure of liquidity, spiked to 10 percent from about 2.25 percent. The daily operations are meant to ensure there are ample reserves available during spikes in demand.
Some investors said Friday’s announcement is a sign that the Fed is willing to act as needed to stabilize short-term interest rates.
“The Fed will do whatever it needs to do to keep funding rates near where they want them,” said Ward McCarthy, chief financial economist for Jefferies in New York. “If this proves to be insufficient they’ll simply do more.”
Central bank officials anticipated they would one day need to resume expansion of the balance sheet to keep operating under a system of “ample reserves.” Through that approach, the Fed sets monetary policy by controlling the interest rate charged on reserves instead of conducting daily market operations.
The Fed will initially aim to bring reserves to about $1.5 trillion, the level seen in early September, before a liquidity crunch led to a spike in short-term rates. But some strategists say the right level of reserves is between $1.6 trillion and $1.8 trillion. – Reuters