Government Is Too Darn Big

Two weeks ago, the yield on the 10-year Treasury Note was hovering around 5%, and the S&P 500 was in contraction territory, down over 10%. But last week, the 10-year yield dipped to 4.6%, while the S&P 500 saw a 6% gain. This market volatility is attributed to changing sentiments: 1) There was a belief that the Federal Reserve had lost control, but now, 2) it seems the Fed has achieved a "soft landing," bringing a semblance of stability.

While this may hold some truth, we remain cautious. If we step back and look at the US economy from a distance, things don’t really look so great. Our worries have roots all the way back in 2008, when the Fed altered its approach to monetary policy. The Fed shifted from a "scarce reserve" model to an "abundant reserve" model when it initiated Quantitative Easing, fundamentally changing how interest rates are determined.

In the past, banks occasionally lacked the reserves they were legally required to hold, prompting them to borrow from other banks with excess reserves through their federal funds trading desks, thus determining the federal funds rate through an active market. Today, banks are flush with trillions of excess reserves, eliminating the need for borrowing and lending reserves. Consequently, the federal funds trading desk has become obsolete.

So…if banks are not creating a market for federal funds, were does the rate come from? The answer: the Fed just makes it up. Literally makes it up. And, over the past fifteen years, the Fed has held the funds rate below inflation 83% of the time.