The Federal Reserve Does Not Buy Mortgage-Backed Securities

When I saw the following story in the New York Times on Friday (Peters, Jeremy W. and Wayne Arnold, “Stocks Are Volatile After Global Sell-Off,” 10 August 2007) I fucking freaked:

The E.C.B. injected another 61 billion euros ($84 billion) into the banking system, after providing 95 billion euros the day before. The Federal Reserve today added $19 billion to the system through the purchase of mortgage-backed securities, then another $19 billion in three-day repurchase agreements. The Fed added $24 billion on Thursday.

It’s not the amounts of money that are unusual. Yes, this indicates a fairly aggressive attempt to preserve liquidity in financial markets and it is definitely earning the headlines it is getting in The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal. But that the Federal Reserve might engage in the direct purchase of $19 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities would indicate a real problem and the adoption of extraordinary, panic measures on the part of the Federal Reserve. On Friday I was thinking how I might reinvest my 401k into gold doubloons.

Thankfully, on Saturday Dean Baker pointed out (“The Fed Does Not Buy Mortgage-Backed Securities!!!!!!,” Beat the Press, 11 August 2007) that this was just incompetence on the part of the economic reporting at The New York Times and The Washington Post (who also reported the story). That what really happed was that the Federal Reserve made a more routine loan through the discount window and accepted the $19 billion in mortgage-backed securities as collateral for the loan.

While you’re there, his post (“Tell The Post: The Problem Isn’t Subprime,” Press, 11 August 2007) pointing out that the cause of our current financial woes is not the subrime market (dirty, irresponsible poor people) is a useful reminder. The real problem is the bursting of the housing bubble more generally. The subprime market is just the first place it’s really being felt.