Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Target2 and the Federal Reserve Interdistrict Settlement Account

Perry Mehrling wrote an interesting post called Why did the ECB LTROs help?

He visits the comparison of the Federal Reserve Interdistrict Settlement Account and the ECB Target2 settlement mechanism. I have also found this comparison in a number of other publications, see the list at bottom. Here is the comment I left at the Money View blog.

My reading of the Euro-system rules is that deficit national central banks (NCBs) never have to settle with surplus NCBs. These intra-system balances can grow ad infinitum. Thus, deficit NCBs don't have to worry about owning acceptable assets for settlement, since there is no ultimate day of reckoning. The result is that survival constraints for Eurosystem NCBs are far looser than the survival constraints faced by regional Federal Reserve banks, which must settle each year. In the old days this settlement was conducted by transfers of gold certificates amongst regional Federal Reserve banks. After 1975 the settlement medium was switched to securities held in SOMA. But in the case of the Eurosystem, there is no ultimate settlement mechanism or medium that I am aware of, neither gold nor securities. 
Merhling's co-blogger Daniel Neilson had an interesting reply in which he pointed out that it would appear that the Fed's April settlement seems to no longer be occurring:

Indeed the Federal Reserve System seems to have decided to let FRBNY accumulate a large claim on the other Reserve Banks. One can see why the various Reserve Banks might not feel the need to imagine a breakup of the United States in deciding on the makeup of their balance sheets.
The appearance of non-settlement is noticeable in Mehrling's chart. The reversion to mean that should be occurring each April settlement did not happen in 2011. Debts to the New York Fed from other regional Federal Reserve banks are, seemingly, being allowed to accumulate.

Whether in fact settlement rules are being ignored is a mystery to me. Here is my comment:

Odd that this is not mentioned in the Fed's financial notes. What is the resolution of the data in that chart? End of week? It might not give sufficient granularity for us to assess whether claims were allowed to accumulate, or were settled for a day or two before returning to trend.
Buiter explains why the constraint can be escaped:
"The Interdistrict Settlement Account must be settled once a year with gold-backed securities or Federal treasury bills. This would represent a constraint on inter-district credit flows only if the stock of Federal Treasury bills allocated to the individual Federal Reserve banks was exogenous. However, individual regional reserve banks can always buy Federal treasury bills from banks or other holders of the stuff in their own districts, financing this with an increase in base money. The Federal Reserve Board could then decide to undo this transaction or ‘sterilise’, it. However, an interest-rate-setting Fed will only undo this, if the regional Fed’s Treasury bill purchase and the associated increase in base money were to lead to an excessive divergence between the actual Federal Funds rate and the Federal Funds target. This is highly unlikely. Even when the Fed’s official policy rate is at the effective lower bound for the official policy rate and the Fed is engaged in QE, there is no effective constraint on the ability of regional Reserve Banks to settle the Interdistrict Settlement Account imbalances with Treasury Bills funded with base money issuance. The yearly settlement requirement in the Interdistrict Settlement Account procedure would thus not appear to be a constraint on persistent credit imbalances between individual Federal Reserve banks’ districts."
I am hoping to investigate this mystery a bit further.

There are a number of conflicting resources explaining how the interdistrict account is settled, and how binding this is.

1. The key source is pg 136 - 138 of the Financial Account Manual for the Federal Reserve.
2. The Buiter quote I mention above comes from a Citi report called Original Sinn.
3. Peter Garber's Deutsche Bank article The Mechanics of Intra Euro Capital Flight also touches on the comparison.
4. Citi prints Hans-Werner Sinn reply to Buiter here, giving his views on interdistrict settlement.
5. Here is Sinn's initial paper.
6. I got the reference to the 1975 settlement changes from Meltzer, A History of the Fed, Vol 1. "The diminished stock of gold and gold certificates and rising levels of reserves and deposits required a change in interbank settlement... In 1975 the operations staff recommended that monthly gold transfers cease. Reserve banks other than New York would change once a year. New York would pay for withdrawals and receive deposits from the Treasury. Once a year, the Interdistrict Settlement Fund would reallocate securities in the System Open Market Account to balance accounts. Gold remain as collateral for the note issue, but securities would be the principal collateral (memo, Maurice McWhirter and Alan Holmes to FOMC, Board Records, April 11, 1975). Step by step, gold lost its monetary role and main provisions of the 1913 Federal Reserve Act disappeared."

There are no other good sources that I've been able to locate on the Target2/interdistrict comparison.

Note: I have blogged more extensively on the Interdistrict account here.

No comments:

Post a Comment