Who’s Going to Bail Out the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve?

Congress and the Federal Reserve are taking extraordinary, unprecedented steps to fight the recession, but they're running out of ammo fast.
Posted in: MarketsOp-ed
Published:
March 23, 2020 1:29 PM UTC
  • It’s hard to keep up with how much money the Federal Reserve is pumping into banks since the coronavirus crisis started.
  • Meanwhile, the federal stimulus package in Congress now tops $2 trillion.
  • But when the bill comes due, who’s really going to pay for it?

The Federal Reserve announced a virtually “unlimited QE” program Monday. And Congress will act as soon as Monday to allow the Fed to hoover up corporate bonds along with Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities.

But Senate Democrats held firm Sunday afternoon against a version of the coronavirus stimulus bill rejected by Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill.

While there’s been some confusion about how much Congress would appropriate, Larry Kudlow said Friday it would top $2 trillion. The top White House economist later clarified that includes Federal Reserve stimulus as well. But by Sunday sources reported the legislative package alone will amount to $2 trillion.

Sunday’s delay is, however, just a small bump in the road. There’s intense pressure on Congress to act. A fiscal stimulus bill unprecedented in American history is right around the corner. Even the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was only $831 billion compared to the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill.

Meanwhile the Fed is on a money pumping, recession fighting blitz.

Federal Reserve Fires Everything It’s Got

On Mar. 3, the Federal Reserve announced an emergency inter-meeting rate cut of half a percentage point. That took interest rates down from 1.5% to 1%. On Mar. 12, the Fed announced a $1.5 trillion intervention in overnight money markets. Then on Mar. 15, the central bank slashed rates all the way down to 0%.

After that, on Mar. 20, the New York Federal Reserve unloaded:

… $1 trillion of overnight loans a day through the end of this month to large banks. That is in addition to $1 trillion in 14-day loans it is offering every week.

That same day we learned the Federal Reserve would extend its balance sheet expansion to include municipal bonds. Moreover, the New York Fed began increasing its purchases of mortgage backed securities. (You know, the bundled mortgage assets that got the financial system tangled up in the housing market crash in 2008?)

All of that was Friday. By Monday we had “unlimited QE.”

But when the Fed’s out of ammo to fight recession, who bails them out?

GDP and Employment to Plunge Catastrophically

Billionaire Bridgewater founder and co-chair Ray Dalio said Thursday that the economy will suffer a $4 trillion loss in this economic crisis. He also said the Federal Reserve is out of ammo to keep fighting at the zero percent interest rate floor:

What you’re seeing right now… is the inability of central banks to stimulate monetary policy in the way that is normal. In other words, in a regular cycle, they push the button and they stimulate and give people credit. And people with money and credit, they go out and spend more, and they pick up the economy. But the capacity to do that when you hit the zero interest rate floor… monetization doesn’t work anymore…

Markets were already worried when the Federal Reserve cut rates last August that the central bank left itself no room to fight recession. And don’t forget about Congress. Washington is borrowing every penny of that $2 trillion stimulus bill because it was already running a recession level deficit before coronavirus struck.

The financial reality is an economy mired in record levels of household, corporate, government, and global debt. Financial and political authorities are borrowing from the future to face down the coronavirus crisis. But we’ve already obligated ourselves to record levels of future obligations. It all seemed fine while the economy was humming along.

But now Goldman Sachs projects GDP will contract by 24% in the second quarter. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard said make that 50% on Sunday, and expect to see unemployment skyrocket to as high as 30%.

There is no one to bail out the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve. The Treasury borrows from the Federal Reserve when it doesn’t have enough to meet its obligations. And the central bank is America’s lender of last resort.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of CCN.com.

Sam Bourgi edited this article for CCN.com. If you see a breach of our Code of Ethics or Rights and Duties of the Editor or find a factual, spelling, or grammar error, please contact us.

Last modified: June 13, 2020 12:23 AM UTC

Show comments
W. E. Messamore @thehuli

Markets Contributor for CCN living in Nashville, Tennessee. Bachelor of Business Administration from Belmont University in 2009 (majored in Entrepreneurship). Organized Senator Rand Paul's first and second online fundraisers in 2009. Roving editor for the Independent Voter Network since 2013. Email me | Link up with me on LinkedIn | My Website | Follow Me on Twitter (followed by: fmr Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), fmr NM Gov. Gary Johnson, and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY))