Fed Back Buying All The Debt
Who needs QE 3 when the Fed is already buying virtually all of the newly issued U.S. Treasuries?
One of the salient questions asked of Bernanke by Congress relates to a Kevin Warsh oped in the WSJ, in which he said the following: "Private investors are crowded out of the market when the Fed shows up as a large and powerful bidder. As a result, the administration and Congress make tax and spending decisions—with huge implications for our standard of living—with heightened risks around future funding costs."
This is arguably the question that dominates Fed policy making under the Operation Twist doctrine, in which the Fed buys up long-dated paper and sells Short dated (under 3 years), the second leg of which however is completely irrelevant, as the Fed has already guaranteed ZIRP until 2014, in essence confirming that Twist was nothing but a stealth QE3 as we have claimed all along, as the Fed's ZIRP4EVA policy effectively offsets any and all short-dated sales. Needless to say Bernanke's response was irrelevant. However, here is the most jarring statistic. As Barclays showed a few days back, under Twist, the Fed has monetized virtually all, and specifically 91% of all gross issuance in the 20-30 year maturity bucket.
In other words, Warsh is absolutely spot on, and once again we are left with an artificial market in which it is only the Fed that defines the UST curve shape by molding the long end. What happens when Twist ends? Will the 30 Year collapse? What happens when there is no explicit back stop to the long end? Is this the reason why Bill Gross yesterday said that he fully expects much more check writing by the Fed for the next '12, 24, 36 months." And how can it not: we don't have a market of rational players any more - the entire market is merely one irrational player, whose biggest counterparty incidentally, the ECB, is beyond broke. Finally, what happens to the Fed's balance sheet when interest rates start rising? Holding a portfolio with a duration greater than it has ever been, the DV01 is currently well over $2 billion (i.e. a $2 billion loss on every basis point increase in rates). And rising.