Fed Minutes for December meeting are out.

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Developments in Financial Markets and the Federal Reserve’s Balance Sheet

The Manager of the System Open Market Account reported on developments in domestic and foreign financial markets as well as System open market operations during the period since the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) met on October 29-30, 2013. The staff also presented an update on the ongoing testing of overnight reverse repurchase agreement (ON RRP) operations that the Committee approved at its September meeting and that is scheduled to end on January 29, 2014. All operations to date had proceeded smoothly. Participation in ON RRP operations varied somewhat from day to day, in part reflecting changes in the spread between market rates on repurchase agreement transactions and the rate offered in the Federal Reserve’s ON RRP operations. The staff reported that they saw potential benefits to extending the exercise and in January would likely recommend a continuation along with possible adjustments to program parameters that could provide additional insights into the demand for a potential facility and its efficacy in putting a floor on money market rates.

Following the Manager’s report, the Committee considered a proposal to increase the caps on individual allocations in the ON RRP test operations from $1 billion to $3 billion per counterparty. The proposed increase in caps was intended to test the Desk’s ability to manage somewhat larger operational flows and to provide additional information about the potential usefulness of ON RRP operations to affect market interest rates when doing so becomes appropriate. Participants generally supported the proposal, with one participant emphasizing the usefulness of extending the end date of the program beyond the end of January. However, some participants questioned the extent to which the proposed limited increase in the caps would provide additional insights about the operational aspects of the ON RRP program or the potential market effects of ON RRP operations. A few participants suggested that it would be useful to evaluate the potential role of an ON RRP facility in the context of the Committee’s plans for monetary policy implementation over the medium and longer term.

Following the discussion, the Committee unanimously approved the following resolution:

“The Federal Open Market Committee authorizes an increase in the maximum allotment cap for the series of fixed-rate, overnight reverse repurchase operations approved on September 17, 2013, to $3 billion per counterparty per day from its previous level of $1 billion per counterparty per day. All other aspects of the resolution remain unchanged.”

By unanimous vote, the Committee ratified the Desk’s domestic transactions over the intermeeting period. There were no intervention operations in foreign currencies for the System’s account over the intermeeting period.

The staff presented a short briefing summarizing a survey that was conducted over the intermeeting period regarding participants’ views of the marginal costs and marginal efficacy of asset purchases. Most participants judged the marginal costs of asset purchases as unlikely to be sufficient, relative to their marginal benefits, to justify ending the purchases now or relatively soon; a few participants identified some possible costs as being more substantial, indicating that the costs could justify ending purchases now or relatively soon even if the Committee’s macroeconomic goals for the purchase program had not yet been achieved. Participants were most concerned about the marginal cost of additional asset purchases arising from risks to financial stability, pointing out that a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy could provide an incentive for excessive risk-taking in the financial sector. It was noted that the risks to financial stability could be somewhat larger in the case of asset purchases than in the case of interest rate policy because purchases work in part by affecting term premiums and policymakers have less experience with term premium effects than with more conventional interest rate policy. Participants also expressed some concern that additional asset purchases increase the likelihood that the Federal Reserve might at some point suffer capital losses. But it was pointed out that the Federal Reserve’s asset purchases would almost certainly provide significant net income to the Treasury over the life of the program, especially when the effects of the program on the broader economy were taken into account, and that potential reputational risks to the Federal Reserve arising from any future capital losses could be mitigated by communicating that point to the public. Further, participants noted that ongoing asset purchases could increase the difficulty of managing exit from the current highly accommodative policy stance when the time came. Many participants, however, expressed confidence in the tools at the Federal Reserve’s disposal for managing its balance sheet and for normalizing the stance of policy at the appropriate time. Regarding the marginal efficacy of the purchase program, most participants viewed the program as continuing to support accommodative financial conditions, with a number of them pointing to the importance of purchases in serving to enhance the credibility of the Committee’s forward guidance about the target federal funds rate. A majority of participants judged that the marginal efficacy of purchases was likely declining as purchases continue, although some noted the difficulty inherent in making such an assessment. A couple of participants thought that the marginal efficacy of the program was not declining, as evidenced by the substantial effects in financial markets in recent months of news about the likely path of purchases.

Staff Review of the Economic Situation
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