Over the past few days there has been much confusion over the repocalpyse that shook the overnight funding market, and just as much confusion over the definition of reserves which some banks were unwilling to part with, other banks were desperate for, and in the end both Powell and the former head of the NY Fed’s markets desk admitted that Quantitative Tightening had been taken too far, and the total amount of reserves in the system was too low and will be increased (welcome back QE).
Yet while the book has yet to be written on the causes for last week’s shocking move higher in repo rates, which sent general collateral as high as 10%, a record print in a time of $1.4 trillion in excess reserves, we can shed some clarity on the definition of “reserves.” While there is a universe of semantic gymnastics when it comes to explaining what reserves are, the most basic definition is quite simply “cash”, however not cash in circulation but rather cash (and deposits) held in the bank’s account with the Federal Reserve (which the US central bank’s name comes from).
This means that there should be a de facto identity between the total amount of cash in the US banking system and the amount of total (minimum required plus excess) reserves. Sure enough, if only looks at the Fed’s weekly H.8 statement, which lists the “Assets and Liabilities of Commercial Banks in the United States“, and adds across the various banking cash aggregates in the US, what one gets is precisely the total amount of reserves.
This is seen in the chart below, which adds across the weekly cash for both small and large domestic commercial banks operating in the US (blue and red shaded areas) as well as foreign commercial banks (yellow shaded) operating in the US. The black line, meanwhile, shows the total amount of reserve balances with Federal Reserve Banks. By definition these two numbers have to be virtually identical, and sure enough, they are.
Why is the above important?
Because as the FT reported on Friday as part of its interview with the NY Fed’s new,