The Fed announced this morning that they will be extending U.S. dollar liquidity swaps through summer of 2011. This is basically their way of saying that they’re worried about the risk of a dollar funding crisis still. That’s not unreasonable given the elevated risks in Europe (it’s nice to see a more proactive Fed), however, it does expose the USA to a risk that it should never have – foreign denominated debt risk. They issued this useful primer on swaps along with the announcement:
Why has the Federal Reserve re-established temporary U.S. dollar liquidity swap facilities with foreign central banks?
The swap facilities announced in May 2010 respond to the re-emergence of strains in short term funding markets in Europe. They are designed to improve liquidity conditions in global money markets and to minimize the risk that strains abroad could spread to U.S. markets, by providing foreign central banks with the capacity to deliver U.S. dollar funding to institutions in their jurisdictions.
With which central banks has the Federal Reserve entered into swap facilities?
The Federal Reserve has established swap arrangements with the Bank of Canada (BOC), the Bank of England (BOE), the European Central Bank (ECB), the Swiss National Bank (SNB), and the Bank of Japan (BOJ).
How will the swap facilities function?
The swap lines with the ECB, BOE, SNB and BOJ will provide these central banks with the capacity to conduct tenders of U.S. dollars in their local markets at fixed local rates for full allotment, similar to arrangements that had been in place previously. The swap line with the Bank of Canada allows for drawings of up to $30 billion. The terms, structure, and operational mechanics of these swap agreements closely parallel the arrangements that expired on February 1, 2010. For reference please see the attached link.
For how long are the swap facilities expected to be operational?
These swap arrangements have been authorized through August 1, 2011. Central banks may request drawings on their swap lines up to the date of expiration.
Is the Federal Reserve exposed to foreign exchange or private bank risk in extending these lines?
No. Dollars provided through the reciprocal currency swaps are provided by the Federal Reserve to foreign central banks, not to the institutions obtaining the funding in these operations. The foreign central bank receiving dollars determines the terms on which it will lend dollars onward to institutions in its jurisdiction, including how the foreign central bank will allocate dollar funds to financial institutions, which institutions are eligible to borrow, and what types of collateral they may borrow against. The terms governing these loans of dollars are in all cases released to the public by the foreign central banks. As the Federal Reserve’s contractual relationship is exclusively with the foreign central bank and not with the institutions obtaining dollar funding in these operations, the Federal Reserve does not assume the credit risk associated with lending to financial institutions based in these foreign jurisdictions. The provision of dollars and receipt of foreign currency, and the receipt of dollars and return of foreign currency at the swap’s maturity date, both occur at the same foreign exchange rate so that the Federal Reserve is not exposed to movements in foreign exchange rates.
Will activity under the liquidity swap arrangements be disclosed to the public?
Yes, swap activity will be published weekly. The Federal Reserve has also released the underlying legal agreements with foreign central banks.
So, we’re basically the lender of last resort to the entire world and if the ECB were to do something monumentally stupid that put the Euro at risk there is a very real chance that the US central bank would be left holding a bag full of worthless Euros. Of course, this is highly unlikely, but not without risk as this Fed press release might have you believe…..
For more FAQ on the swaps see here.
Mr. Roche is the Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Discipline Funds.Discipline Funds is a low fee financial advisory firm with a focus on helping people be more disciplined with their finances.
He is also the author of Pragmatic Capitalism: What Every Investor Needs to Understand About Money and Finance, Understanding the Modern Monetary System and Understanding Modern Portfolio Construction.