Ironmouth: What is it that Taibbi wants?
What is it that Taibbi wants?
Banks are opaque and hard to understand! This is scary! Even big, sophisticated investors don’t understand the risks big banks take! Financial reporting for banks is scary and complex and mystifying! To calm ourselves, we tried to understand stodgy, prudent Wells Fargo’s financial statements. What did we find? Wells Fargo is big, opaque, complex, and scary!! Even their friendly investors relations person could not or would not answer our questions! We are scared! What should we do? We should send more bank executives to jail for scaring us! Oh, and come up with better, more understandable financial disclosure! Otherwise no-one will ever, ever, ever invest in publicly traded banks again! And then, disaster!!
The bursting of the United States housing bubble prompted the Fed to buy mortgage-backed securities for the first time in November 2008. Over six weeks, a total of $1.25 trillion were purchased in order stabilize the housing market, about one-fifth of all U.S. government-backed mortgages.
To guarantee their soundness, all major banks are required to keep a certain amount of reserve cash at the Fed. In years past, that money didn't earn interest, for the logical reason that banks shouldn't get paid to stay solvent. But in 2006 – arguing that banks were losing profits on cash parked at the Fed – regulators agreed to make small interest payments on the money. The move wasn't set to go into effect until 2011, but when the crash hit, a section was written into TARP that launched the interest payments in October 2008.
In theory, there should never be much money in such reserve accounts, because any halfway-competent bank could make far more money lending the cash out than parking it at the Fed, where it earns a measly quarter of a percent. In August 2008, before the bailout began, there were just $2 billion in excess reserves at the Fed. But by that October, the number had ballooned to $267 billion – and by January 2009, it had grown to $843 billion. That means there was suddenly more money sitting uselessly in Fed accounts than Congress had approved for either the TARP bailout or the much-loathed Obama stimulus. Instead of lending their new cash to struggling homeowners and small businesses, as Summers had promised, the banks were literally sitting on it.
Today, excess reserves at the Fed total an astonishing $1.4 trillion."The money is just doing nothing," says Nomi Prins, a former Goldman executive who has spent years monitoring the distribution of bailout money.
Nothing, that is, except earning a few crumbs of risk-free interest for the banks. Prins estimates that the annual haul in interest on Fed reserves is about $3.6 billion – a relatively tiny subsidy in the scheme of things...
Since the creation of the Federal Reserve System as a lender of last resort, capable of meeting the liquidity needs of the entire banking system, the notion of and need for reserve requirements as a source of liquidity has all but vanished. Instead, reserve requirements have evolved into a supplemental tool of monetary policy, a tool that reinforces the effects of open market operations and discount policy on overall monetary and credit conditions and thereby helps the Federal Reserve to achieve its objectives.
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