© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The Federal Reserve building is seen in front of the Federal Reserve Board and is expected to signal plans to raise interest rates in March as it focuses on fighting inflation in Washington, US, January 26, 2022. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Written by Michael S Derby
(Reuters) – Continued massive cash flows at a key Fed facility are largely driven by a change in bank liquidity regulations from last year, a New York Federal Reserve report said on Friday.
The Fed offers what’s called a reverse repo, which allows eligible businesses to store cash at the central bank for a risk-free return. The rule that plays into the inflows is a regulation called the supplementary leverage ratio, which determines how much liquidity banks need on hand.
The SLR standard was relaxed during the most severe phase of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, when concerns about market performance prevailed, and it was restored at the end of March 2021, to return to a more stringent level.
Banking economists Jara Afonso, Marco Cipriani, and Gabriel La Spada write: “After the end of the SLR exemption period, banks had less flexibility to expand their balance sheets by increasing their holdings of reserves and Treasuries.” This had a knock-on effect on money market funds, the main users of reverse repo, which drove liquidity into the reverse repo facility.
After the regulations changed, the newspaper said, banks were less inclined to take deposits, and instead the money flowed into financial funds, which had to invest that money somewhere. Meanwhile, banks have cut back on short-term debt offerings, restricting where money can be invested. Moreover, the federal interest rate increases pushed cash into money market funds as financial markets experienced a shift in the cost of short-term borrowing, according to the authors.
The Federal Reserve’s esteemed buyback facility is an essential part of the toolkit it uses to manage its federal funds rate target setting, which it uses to influence the economy’s trajectory to achieve its inflation and employment targets. A reverse repo tool provides money market funds and other companies a place to deposit cash into the Federal Reserve overnight and earn a return. It is currently at 3.8% and is an investment with a better return than many private securities that come with greater risks.
The Fed’s reverse repo facility was largely unused in the spring of 2021, and then flows increased steadily. Inflows peaked at $2.426 trillion at the end of September before easing slightly to Friday’s inflow of $2.05 trillion.
Fed officials were optimistic about the huge levels of inflows. Some have argued that as the Fed raises interest rates and reduces the size of its balance sheet to combat high inflation, inflows into the reverse repo facility should decrease over time. But so far it hasn’t really happened.
Meanwhile, issues related to the correct setup of the SLR are under consideration by the financial authorities, who are treading cautiously on the issue. “History shows the massive costs incurred by society when bank capital is inadequate, and therefore the urgency that the Fed properly adjusts capital regulation,” Michael Barr, the Fed’s official on bank supervision, said in comments Thursday.