The financial markets have been fixated for years at the prospect of interest rate increases by the Federal Reserve but have largely ignored the $4.5 trillion elephant in the room, namely the Fed’s gargantuan balance sheet. But last week several members of the Fed began publicly discussing their support to finally start winding down that massive portfolio.
Way back before the global financial crisis, the Fed’s portfolio held pretty steady in the high $800 billion to low $900 billion range. Then, as the crisis hit full force in the last three months of 2008 after the Lehman Brothers collapse, the portfolio more than doubled, ending that year at slightly north of $2 trillion. While the worst of the crisis may have been reached at that point, that was only the beginning of the balance sheet’s growth.
Between the end of 2008 until the end of 2012, the Fed’s portfolio grew gradually by another $800 billion or so, before spiking again, adding another $2 trillion over the next two years as the Fed embarked on quantitative easing. Eventually the portfolio reached $4.5 trillion, including both Treasury and mortgage-backed securities, at the end of 2014, where it has held largely steady ever since. Continue reading "What Happens When The Fed Starts Selling?"