Is the Federal Reserve Insolvent

The ongoing troubles at the GSEs are no secret: it is public knowledge that Fannie had a 5.38% delinquency rate at December, while Freddie just passed the 4% threshold in January; both continue to rise rapidly each month. The fact that the mortgage-bond spread has just hit a record tight is merely an ongoing artifact of the Fed’s endless meddling in the mortgage market, with the sole purpose of keeping rates artificially low, and preventing banks from being forced to take massive writedowns on their entire loan book. This is all well known. What, however, seems to have escaped public attention is what the impact of these delinquencies is on the one largest holder of Mortgage Backed Securities, the Federal Reserve. What also seems to have escaped the public is that the Fed is now the world’s largest bank, with total assets near $2.3 trillion. We provide a weekly update of the Fed’s balance sheet and while we briefly note the liability side, our, and everyone else’s, attention, is traditionally focused on the asset side. Yet a more detailed look at the liability side reveals something very troubling, specifically that the Fed’s capital, i.e. equity buffer, which as of most recently was $53.3 billion (a comparable metric for plain vanilla banks is their equity buffer, or Tier 1 Capital, or however the FASB wants to define it on any given day when it is covering up massive capital shortfalls) is in fact negligible and could well be substantially negative, if the Fed were to account for the rapidly rising level of delinquencies in its one largest asset holdings: the $1.027 trillion in settled MBS. And while there is no possibility of a run on the Fed, the reality is that the Fed now likely runs with a negative real capital balance, meaning that the US Federal Reserve is now essentially insolvent.

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