05 Jan 2009

James Hamilton Gets Us Up to Speed on the Fed Balance Sheet

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Jeff Hummel passed this post along. I haven’t read it carefully yet, but it looks promising, with lots of charts and not assuming the reader is an expert. And I was definitely intrigued when I saw this:

And how about the Fed’s “free money” from the ballooning excess reserves? If those funds do start to end up as cash held by the public, then the Fed will need to worry again about inflation, in which case it has two options. One is to sell off some of its remaining assets (or fail to roll over some loans). In this case, the consequences for the Treasury are the same as above– that income from the Fed’s earnings is no longer coming back to the Treasury, and it’s as if the $800 billion in excess reserves was again replaced by direct Treasury borrowing.

The second option is just allow the inflation.

The bottom line is that Bernanke has made a gamble with something approaching 2 trillion. If the gamble wins, taxpayers owe nothing. If the gamble loses, taxpayers are committed to borrow a sum equal to any losses and start making interest payments on it.

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