Why the Fed Is Bankrupt and Why That Means More Inflation, by Ryan McMaken

How can an institution that manufacturers money go bankrupt? From Ryan McMaken at mises.org:

In 2011, the Federal Reserve invented new accounting methods for itself so that it could never legally go bankrupt. As explained by Robert Murphy, the Federal Reserve redefined its losses so as to ensure its balance sheet never shows insolvency. As Bank of America’s Priya Misra put it at the time:

As a result, any future losses the Fed may incur will now show up as a negative liability (negative interest due to Treasury) as opposed to a reduction in Fed capital, thereby making a negative capital situation technically impossible.

That was twelve years ago, and it was all academic at the time. But in 2023, the Fed really is insolvent, although its fake post-2011 account doesn’t show this. Nevertheless, the reality is that the Fed’s assets are losing value at the same time that the Fed is paying out more in interest than it is making in interest income.

This became clear last week, when the Fed released a new report showing that its interest payments on bank reserves skyrocketed in 2022. The press release states:

Total interest expense of $102.4 billion increased $96.6 billion from 2021 total interest expense of $5.7 billion; of the increase in interest expense, $55.1 billion pertained to interest expense on Reserve Balances held by depository institutions and $41.5 billion related to interest on securities sold under agreements to repurchase.

As this graphic from the Fed shows, the cost of operations also exceeded earnings in 2022 because remittances have fallen from 2021:


For the year overall, the Fed still managed to achieve a positive net income, thanks to positive inflows in the first half of the year. But since September, as Reuters notes, the Fed began recording what’s called a deferred asset, which tallies up the Fed’s loss; the deferred asset stood at $18.8 billion at the end of the year.

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