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FOMC Minutes: Plans for Reducing the Size of the Balance Sheet

From the Fed: Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee, March 15-16, 2022, 2022. Excerpt on the “Plans for Reducing the Size of the Balance Shee”t:
Participants continued their discussion of topics related to plans for reducing the size of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet in a manner consistent with the approach described in the Principles for Reducing the Size of the Federal Reserve’s Balance Sheet that the Committee released following its January meeting.

The participants’ discussion was preceded by a staff presentation that reviewed the Committee’s 2017–19 experience with balance sheet reduction and presented a range of possible options for reducing the Federal Reserve’s securities holdings over time in a predictable manner. All of the options featured a more rapid pace of balance sheet runoff than in the 2017–19 episode. The options differed primarily with respect to the size of the monthly caps for securities redemptions in the SOMA portfolio. The presentation addressed the potential implications of each option for the path of the balance sheet during and after runoff. The staff presentation also featured alternative approaches the Committee could consider with respect to SOMA holdings of Treasury bills as well as alternative ways the Committee could eventually slow and then stop balance sheet runoff as the size of the SOMA portfolio approached levels consistent with the Committee’s ample-reserves framework for policy implementation.

In their discussion, all participants agreed that elevated inflation and tight labor market conditions warranted commencement of balance sheet runoff at a coming meeting, with a faster pace of decline in securities holdings than over the 2017–19 period. Participants reaffirmed that the Federal Reserve’s securities holdings should be reduced over time in a predictable manner primarily by adjusting the amounts reinvested of principal payments received from securities held in the SOMA. Principal payments received from securities held in the SOMA would be reinvested to the extent they exceeded monthly caps. Several participants remarked that they would be comfortable with relatively high monthly caps or no caps. Some other participants noted that monthly caps for Treasury securities should take into consideration potential risks to market functioning. Participants generally agreed that monthly caps of about $60 billion for Treasury securities and about $35 billion for agency MBS would likely be appropriate. Participants also generally agreed that the caps could be phased in over a period of three months or modestly longer if market conditions warrant.

Participants discussed the approach toward implementing caps for Treasury securities and the role that the Federal Reserve’s holdings of Treasury bills might play in the Committee’s plan to reduce the size of the balance sheet. Most participants judged that it would be appropriate to redeem coupon securities up to the cap amount each month and to redeem Treasury bills in months when Treasury coupon principal payments were below the cap. Under this approach, redemption of Treasury bills would typically bring the total amount of Treasury redemptions up to the monthly cap. Several participants remarked that reducing the Federal Reserve’s Treasury bill holdings over time would be appropriate because Treasury bills are highly valued as safe and liquid assets by the private sector, and the Treasury could increase bill issuance to the public as SOMA bill holdings decline. In addition, participants generally noted that maintaining large holdings of Treasury bills is not necessary under the Federal Reserve’s ample-reserves operating framework; in the previous scarce-reserves regime, Treasury bill holdings were useful as a tool that could be used to drain reserves from the banking system when necessary to control short-term interest rates. A couple of participants commented that holding some Treasury bills could be appropriate if the Federal Reserve wished to keep its Treasury portfolio neutral with respect to the universe of outstanding Treasury securities.

With respect to the Federal Reserve’s agency MBS redemptions, participants generally noted that MBS principal prepayments would likely run under the proposed monthly cap in a range of plausible interest rate scenarios but that the cap could guard against outsized reductions in the Federal Reserve’s agency MBS holdings in scenarios with especially high prepayments. Some participants noted that under the proposed approach to running off Treasury and agency securities primarily through adjustments to reinvestments, agency MBS holdings would still make up a sizable share of the Federal Reserve’s asset holdings for many years. Participants generally agreed that after balance sheet runoff was well under way, it will be appropriate to consider sales of agency MBS to enable suitable progress toward a longer-run SOMA portfolio composed primarily of Treasury securities. A Committee decision to implement a program of agency MBS sales would be announced well in advance.

Several participants noted the significant uncertainty around the future level of reserves that would be consistent with the Committee’s ample-reserves operating framework. Against this backdrop, participants generally agreed that it would be appropriate to first slow and then stop the decline in the size of the balance sheet when reserve balances were above the level the Committee judged to be consistent with ample reserves, thereby allowing reserves to decline more gradually as nonreserve liabilities increased over time. Participants agreed that lessons learned from the previous balance sheet reduction episode should inform the Committee’s current approach to reaching ample reserve levels and that close monitoring of money market conditions and indicators of near-ample reserves should help inform adjustments to the pace of runoff. A couple of participants noted that the establishment of the SRF, which did not exist in the previous runoff episode, could address unexpected money market pressures that might emerge if the Committee adopted an approach to balance sheet reduction in which reserves declined relatively rapidly, but several others noted that the facility was not intended as a substitute for ample reserves. Participants generally agreed that it was important for the Committee to be prepared to adjust any of the details of its approach to reducing the size of the balance sheet in light of economic and financial developments.

No decision regarding the Committee’s plan to reduce the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet was made at this meeting, but participants agreed they had made substantial progress on the plan and that the Committee was well placed to begin the process of reducing the size of the balance sheet as early as after the conclusion of its upcoming meeting in May.
emphasis added

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