Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Federal Reserve's Unauthorized Massive Bailout of Europe (and Possibly Japan)

On Monday of this week, I posted a commentary by Ron Paul calling for the halt of a coming  Federal Reserve bailout out of Europe (The Coming Fed Bailout of Europe Must Be Stopped!)

Now, beltarian insider Gerald O'Driscoll (former vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and later at Citigroup and now a senior fellow at the Cato Institute) warns, in WSJ, that the bailout that Ron Paul warned about has started, when one examines the latest Fed reports.

O'Drsicoll writes:
This Byzantine financial arrangement could hardly be better designed to confuse observers, and it has largely succeeded on this side of the Atlantic, where press coverage has been light.
Perhaps MSM is spending time on what Dr. Paul didn't write 20 plus years ago versus what he is actually writing now.

Here's O'Driscoll warning about what Dr. Paul spotted:
America's central bank, the Federal Reserve, is engaged in a bailout of European banks. Surprisingly, its operation is largely unnoticed here. [Except for Ron Paul-rw]

The Fed is using what is termed a "temporary U.S. dollar liquidity swap arrangement" with the European Central Bank (ECB). There are similar arrangements with the central banks of Canada, England, Switzerland and Japan. Simply put, the Fed trades or "swaps" dollars for euros. The Fed is compensated by payment of an interest rate (currently 50 basis points, or one-half of 1%) above the overnight index swap rate. The ECB, which guarantees to return the dollars at an exchange rate fixed at the time the original swap is made, then lends the dollars to European banks of its choosing.

Why are the Fed and the ECB doing this? The Fed could, after all, lend directly to U.S. branches of foreign banks. It did a great deal of lending to foreign banks under various special credit facilities in the aftermath of Lehman's collapse in the fall of 2008. Or, the ECB could lend euros to banks and they could purchase dollars in foreign-exchange markets. The world is, after all, awash in dollars.

The two central banks are engaging in this roundabout procedure because each needs a fig leaf. The Fed was embarrassed by the revelations of its prior largess with foreign banks. It does not want the debt of foreign banks on its books. A currency swap with the ECB is not technically a loan.
O'Driscoll then goes on to detail a bit of bailout history and report on how the bailout is cranking up again:
The Fed had more than $600 billion of currency swaps on its books in the fall of 2008. Those draws were largely paid down by January 2010. As recently as a few weeks ago, the amount under the swap renewal agreement announced last summer was $2.4 billion. For the week ending Dec. 14, however, the amount jumped to $54 billion. For the week ending Dec. 21, the total went up by a little more than $8 billion. The aforementioned $33 billion three-month loan was not picked up because it was only booked by the ECB on Dec. 22, falling outside the Fed's reporting week. Notably, the Bank of Japan drew almost $5 billion in the most recent week. Could a bailout of Japanese banks be afoot? (All data come from the Federal Reserve Board H.4.1. release, the New York Fed's Swap Operations report, and the ECB website.)
Aside from the obvious inflationary consequences of printing more dollars via swaps (even though they start off in Europe those dollars could easily hit these shores) O'Driscoll lists a number of other problems with the swaps, including the fact that they are illegal:
First, the Fed has no authority for a bailout of Europe. My source for that judgment? Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke met with Republican senators on Dec. 14 to brief them on the European situation. After the meeting, Sen. Lindsey Graham told reporters that Mr. Bernanke himself said the Fed did not have "the intention or the authority" to bail out Europe. The week Mr. Bernanke promised no bailout, however, the size of the swap lines to the ECB ballooned by around $52 billion.

Second, these Federal Reserve swap arrangements foster the moral hazards and distortions that government credit allocation entails. Allowing the ECB to do the initial credit allocation—to favored banks and then, some hope, through further lending to spendthrift EU governments—does not make the problem better.

Third, the nontransparency of the swap arrangements is troublesome in a democracy. To his credit, Mr. Bernanke has promised more openness and better communication of the Fed's monetary policy goals. The swap arrangements are at odds with his promise. It is time for the Fed chairman to provide an honest accounting to Congress of what is going on.


  1. "It is time for the Fed chairman to provide an honest accounting to Congress of what is going on."

    Are you kidding? The Fed owns congress. Not the other way around.

  2. O'Driscoll is an Austrian economist, a co-author with Mario Rizzo of their famous book. I think he may have even been an anarcho-capitalist in his younger days, but not as sure about that.

  3. We are entering into a more agrarian and labor oriented society. All the jobs that are not necessary will disappear.Supply and demand will take over. It is going to be a rough ride for a long time for the working force.
    There will always be some opulence in the world. Time is running fast, out of our control.
    The weather is also out of our control......