But it’s the alphabet soup of new programs that deserve special consideration, as they could have profound long-term consequences for the functioning of the Fed and the allocation of capital in financial markets. Specifically, these are:
CPFF (Commercial Paper Funding Facility) – buying commercial paper from the issuer.
PMCCF (Primary Market Corporate Credit Facility) – buying corporate bonds from the issuer.
TALF (Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility) – funding backstop for asset-backed securities.
SMCCF (Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility) – buying corporate bonds and bond ETFs in the secondary market.
MSBLP (Main Street Business Lending Program) – Details are to come, but it will lend to eligible small and medium-size businesses, complementing efforts by the Small Business Association.
To put it bluntly, the Fed isn’t allowed to do any of this. The central bank is only allowed to purchase or lend against securities that have government guarantee. This includes Treasury securities, agency mortgage-backed securities and the debt issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. An argument can be made that can also include municipal securities, but nothing in the laundry list above.
So how can they do this? The Fed will finance a special purpose vehicle (SPV) for each acronym to conduct these operations. The Treasury, using the Exchange Stabilization Fund, will make an equity investment in each SPV and be in a “first loss” position. What does this mean? In essence, the Treasury, not the Fed, is buying all these securities and backstopping of loans; the Fed is acting as banker and providing financing. The Fed hired BlackRock Inc. to purchase these securities and handle the administration of the SPVs on behalf of the owner, the Treasury.
In other words, the federal government is nationalizing large swaths of the financial markets. The Fed is providing the money to do it. BlackRock will be doing the trades.
This scheme essentially merges the Fed and Treasury into one organization. So, meet your new Fed chairman, Donald J. Trump.
My rule of thumb for plotting a route through the market mayhem of the last six weeks has been to take what people expressed disquiet about last year and amplify it. Modern Monetary Theory has gone global even quicker than the coronavirus. It is now the de facto economic policy for much of the world and has seen just about every government concede to the requirement for fiscal laxatives.
Right now, the focus is on measures to prevent a depression and the collapse of debt bubbles but the longer these policies persist without a revolution building in the bond market, the greater potential there is for malinvestment, vanity projects and graft to manifest.
The total assets of central bank balance sheets surged to a new all-time high this week; rallying in the most dynamic manner since 2008. Considering the scale of the assistance required to keep the commercial paper, repo, municipal, corporate bond and international markets liquid there is clear scope for a much larger expansion.
Ray Dalio and other macro investors have long been wary of the time when long-term interest rates hit the zero bound. At that point there is nowhere for investors to earn a positive return in the bond markets and monetary policy tools become much less effective. The 30-year yield pulled back last week from the region of 2% and continues to compress. A sustained move back above that level will be required to question scope for further compression.