It’s amazing what you can achieve with a budget of $75 billion per day. Since mid-March, the Federal Reserve has worked relentlessly to unfreeze Treasury markets. The results of its asset purchases are starting to show. Treasury liquidity—one of the most unusual and troubling pain points of this liquidity crisis—has vastly improved since quantitative easing (QE) started.
When the world’s biggest debt market starts having major liquidity issues, investor panic rises to a whole new level. On March 12 and 13, after about a week of extraordinary dysfunction in the US Treasury market, the Federal Reserve issued a major crisis response, expanding Treasury purchases and repurchase operations to boost liquidity and shore up so-called risk-free assets.
It became abruptly apparent in September, when overnight repo rates surged to near 10%, that liquidity in the banking system had suddenly become insufficient. While a confluence of factors (corporate tax payments, settlement of Treasury auctions, etc.) ultimately tipped the secured funding market into imbalance, it was policy choices—monetary and regulatory—that unwittingly pushed this market to the brink of illiquidity.
Is a regime shift in monetary policy imminent? One might think so looking at the yield curve flattening trend—the 5-year and 30-year Treasury yield spread has narrowed 75 basis points (bps) since September 2017 and appears to be on track to flatten entirely.