More Fed MBS Purchases?

A couple of months ago, Fed Chief Bernanke was answering questions about the Fed’s plan to sell its MBS portfolio. He stated that the Fed would eventually return its balance sheet to normal by selling the $1.25 trillion in MBS it had bought to stimulate the economy, but that it would not take place soon. While some Fed officials were pushing for a faster start date, investors believed that the MBS sales were likely to begin early in 2011. As the economic outlook has grown weaker, however, the Fed’s likely plans have changed. Rather than discussing a start date for Fed tightening moves, Fed officials are now outlining options and conditions for adding further monetary stimulus.

In particular, the Fed had been planning to allow the MBS in its portfolio to mature without replacing them. Due to defaults, refinancings, and maturities, some MBS “roll off” the Fed’s portfolio over time. Until recently, investors expected the Fed to let its portfolio slowly shrink in this fashion, which would represent a minor amount of monetary tightening. Tuesday, though, a Wall Street Journal article suggested that Fed officials are considering whether to replace those securities to stimulate the economy. With the next Fed meeting scheduled for August 10, investors will be very alert for signs of change. According to a CNBC report ,  Fed officials are unlikely to announce a major policy shift at the August 10 meeting. Instead, they are expected to wait and see how the economy performs.

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