This is the JPMorgan take on the provison of the new law which allows the Fed to pay interest on reserves. It is a much clearer explanation than I offered earlier.
Tucked away in the details of the TARP legislation is a small clause that could revolutionize monetary policy-making in the US and dramatically increase the ability of the Fed to respond to the current financial crisis. The legislation which could go before the House tomorrow has a section that reads: “Section 203 of the Financial Services Regulatory Relief Act of 2006 (12 U.S.C. 461 note) is amended by striking ‘October 1, 2011’ and inserting ‘October 1, 2008’.” The act mentioned granted the Fed authority to pay interest on reserves beginning in 2011, the current legislation proposes to grant that power beginning this Wednesday.
This change would greatly increase the ability of the Fed to expand the size of its existing liquidity facilities. Under current procedures, any time the Fed has provided market liquidity by injecting reserves into the banking system — be it through the TAF, PDCF, discount window lending, lending to AIG, or other forms of Fed lending — the increase in reserves has had to be ‘sterilized’ by selling Treasuries, conducting reverse repos, or, more recently, through the novel route of having the Treasury overfund itself to increase its account at the Fed. Those means of sterilization threatened to run up against certain balance sheet constraints: the Fed now has less than $250 billion of Treasuries that it hasn’t lent out through the TSLF and TOP, and the Treasury’s overfunding could eventually bump up against the debt ceiling.
With interest on reserves, the Fed would not have to sterilize injections of reserves into the banking system. Normally, reserve injections need to be sterilized to prevent the fed funds rate from undershooting the FOMC’s funds rate target. With interest on reserves, wherever the Fed sets the rate on its deposit facility would effectively set a floor under the funds rate: anytime the effective funds rate would be below the deposit rate, banks would have an incentive to deposit excess reserves with the Fed. Excess reserves would be ‘sterilized’ by banks depositing them with the Fed.
One proposed operating procedure using interest on reserves, called the floor system or the Goodfriend system, would have the Fed set the deposit rate at the FOMC funds target rate and then inject massive amounts of reserves into the banking system — possibly by increasing TAF or similar facilities — and allowing the excess reserves to be deposited with the Fed at the target rate. Following such an operation, the Fed’s balance sheet would contain more risky assets and — on the liability side — more deposits (the monetary base would be roughly unchanged); the private sector’s balance sheet would contain less risky assets and more safe assets in the form of deposits with the Fed. The effect on the private sector balance sheet from the TARP is similar, though in that plan Treasury debt takes the place of Fed deposits.
The Fed has not discussed how soon they might implement interest on reserves, one obvious reason being that the proposed legislation hasn’t yet become law. Because this power would be granted roughly contemporaneously with the TARP, the Fed may choose to see how effective the TARP is before setting up a deposit facility as a tool to help address the credit crisis.
US Economist, JPMorgan Economics