U.S. Fed Still Paying Banks not to Lend
August 18, 2011
August 18, 2011
One of the most outrageous “open secrets” of U.S. government policy these days is that the Federal Reserve is still paying big banks not to lend money.
And it’s doing that while screwing average Americans who have been responsible and lived within their means.
The Federal Reserve is quietly continuing with one of the many outrageous bank-bailout programs it initiated during the financial crisis–the one in which it pays big banks interest on their “excess reserves.”
What are “excess reserves”?
Money that the banks have but aren’t lending out–money that banks are just keeping on deposit at the Fed.
The Fed is paying banks 0.25% interest on this money.
0.25% interest may not sound like much, but it’s more than the banks are paying you to keep money in your savings or money-market account. It’s also more than you’ll earn if you lend the Federal government money for 2 years.
Oh, by the way, why, exactly, are you earning so little interest in your savings accounts and money-market funds?
Well, because, thanks to another one of its bank-bailout programs, the Fed is keeping short-term interest rates at zero.
In other words, the Fed is paying banks not to lend money and screwing you, American citizens, because you’re dumb enough to have saved money.
This is just so bass-ackwards it’s not to be believed.
Why on earth is the Fed paying banks not to lend? Well, back in the financial crisis, the Fed wanted to find ways to secretly bail out the banks without it being screamingly obvious to every American that that was what it was doing. And this particular bailout program was one of the more successful ways it discovered of doing that. Over the past few years, this program has secretly funneled about $10 billion in risk-free cash (rough estimate) directly to the banks, just for being banks and not lending. Don’t you wish you could get in on that game?
How much money are banks keeping in “excess reserves” that they might be encouraged to lend if the Fed weren’t paying them not to?
Oh, only $1.6 trillion. (See chart)
The Fed pays banks about $4 billion of interest a year on that money–the money the banks aren’t lending. And bankers get big bonuses based on that interest, for being so smart as to not lend money and instead just take the free interest from the Fed.
Meanwhile, you earn next to nothing (or nothing) on the money you’ve saved.
We don’t think GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry should have threatened to kill Ben Bernanke the other day, but we can certainly understand his frustration.
God, it’s great to be a banker.
Boy, does it suck to be an average responsible American.