Courtesy of the recently declassified Fed discount window documents, we now know that the biggest beneficiaries of the Fed's generosity during the peak of the credit crisis were foreign banks, among which Belgium's Dexia was the most troubled, and thus most lent to, bank. Having been thus exposed, many speculated that going forward the US central bank would primarily focus its "rescue" efforts on US banks, not US-based (or local branches) of foreign (read European) banks: after all that's what the ECB is for, while the Fed's role is to stimulate US employment and to keep US inflation modest. And furthermore, should the ECB need to bail out its banks, it could simply do what the Fed does, and monetize debt, thus boosting its assets, while concurrently expanding its excess reserves thus generating fungible capital which would go to European banks. Wrong. Below we present that not only has the Fed's bailout of foreign banks not terminated with the drop in discount window borrowings or the unwind of the Primary Dealer Credit Facility, but that the only beneficiary of the reserves generated were US-based branches of foreign banks (which in turn turned around and funnelled the cash back to their domestic branches), a shocking finding which explains not only why US banks have been unwilling and, far more importantly, unable to lend out these reserves, but that anyone retaining hopes that with the end of QE2 the reserves that hypothetically had been accumulated at US banks would be flipped to purchase Treasurys, has been dead wrong, therefore making the case for QE3 a done deal. In summary, instead of doing everything in its power to stimulate reserve, and thus cash, accumulation at domestic (US) banks which would in turn encourage lending to US borrowers, the Fed has been conducting yet another stealthy foreign bank rescue operation, which rerouted $600 billion in capital from potential borrowers to insolvent foreign financial institutions in the past 7 months. QE2 was nothing more (or less) than another European bank rescue operation!
For those who can't wait for the punchline, here it is. Below we chart the total cash holdings of Foreign-related banks in the US using weekly H.8 data.
Note the $630 billion increase in foreign bank cash balances since November 3, which just so happens is the date when the Fed commenced QE2 operations in the form of adding excess reserves to the liability side of its balance sheet. Here is the change in Fed reserves during QE2 (from the Fed's H.4.1 statement, ending with the week of June 1).
Above, note that Fed reserves increased by $610 billion for the duration of QE2 through the week ending June 1 (and by another $70 billion in the week ending June 8, although since we only have bank cash data through June 1, we use the former number, although we are certain that the bulk of this incremental cash once again went to foreign financial institutions).
So how did cash held by US banks fare during QE2? Well, not good. The chart below demonstrates cash balances at small and large US domestic banks, as well as the cash at foreign banks, all of which is compared to total Fed reserves plotted on the same axis. It pretty much explains it all.
The chart above has tremendous implications for everything from US and European monetary policy, to exhange rate and trade policy, to the current account on both sides of the Atlantic, to US fiscal policy, to borrowing and lending activity in the US, and, lastly, to QE 3.
What is the first notable thing about the above chart is that while cash levels in US and US-based foreign-banks correlate almost perfectly with the Fed's reserve balances, as they should, there is a notable divergence beginning around May of 2010, or the first Greek bailout, when Europe was in a state of turmoil, and when cash assets of foreign banks jumped by $200 billion, independent of the Fed and of cash holdings by US banks. About 6 months later, this jump in foreign bank cash balances had plunged to the lowest in years, due to repatriated fungible cash being used to plug undercapitalized local operations, with total cash just $265 billion as of November 17, just as QE2 was commencing. Incidentally, the last time foreign banks had this little cash was April 2009… Just as QE1 was beginning. As to what happens next, the first chart above says it all: cash held by foreign banks jumps from $308 billion on November 3, or the official start of QE2, to $940 billion as of June 1: an almost dollar for dollar increase with the increase in Fed reserve balances. In other words, while the Fed did nothing to rescue foreign banks in the aftermath of the first Greek crisis, aside from opening up FX swap lines, one can argue that the whole point of QE2 was not so much to spike equity markets, or the proverbial "third mandate" of Ben Bernanke, but solely to rescue European banks!
What this observation also means, is that the bulk of risk asset purchasing by dealer desks (if any), has not been performed by US-based primary dealers, as has been widely speculated, but by foreign dealers, which have the designatin of "Primary" with the Federal Reserve. Below is the list of 20 Primary Dealers currently recognized by the New York Fed. The foreign ones, with US-based operations, are bolded:
- BNP Paribas Securities Corp.
- Barclays Capital Inc.
- Cantor Fitzgerald & Co.
- Citigroup Global Markets Inc.
- Credit Suisse Securities (USA) LLC
- Daiwa Capital Markets America Inc.
- Deutsche Bank Securities Inc.
- Goldman, Sachs & Co.
- HSBC Securities (USA) Inc.
- Jefferies & Company, Inc.
- J.P. Morgan Securities LLC
- MF Global Inc.
- Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated
- Mizuho Securities USA Inc.
- Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC
- Nomura Securities International, Inc.
- RBC Capital Markets, LLC
- RBS Securities Inc.
- SG Americas Securities, LLC
- UBS Securities LLC.
That's right, out of 20 Primary Dealers, 12 are…. foreign. And incidentally, the reason why we added the (if any) above, is that since this cash is fungible between on and off-shore operations, what happened is that the $600 billion in cash was promptly repatriated and used by domestic branches of foreign banks to fill undercapitalization voids left by exposure to insolvent European PIIGS and for all other bankruptcy-related capital needs.