Thursday, March 20, 2008

Primary dealers get flattering marks on collateral for Fed loans

A professional investor alerted me to a not-widely-noted element of the Fed's new discount window clone for primary dealers, the so-called Primary Dealers' Credit Facility (I am going to lose track of the acronyms given the speed with which the Fed is coming up with new ways to socialize losses).

This overview is from the Fed's press release:
The PDCF will provide overnight funding to primary dealers in exchange for a specified range of collateral, including all collateral eligible for tri-party repurchase agreements arranged by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, as well as all investment-grade corporate securities, municipal securities, mortgage-backed securities and asset-backed securities for which a price is available.

The PDCF will remain in operation for a minimum period of six months and may be extended as conditions warrant to foster the functioning of financial markets.

Ah, but how will the Fed assign values to the collateral? From the Fed's FAQ:
What collateral is eligible for pledging?

Eligible collateral will include all collateral eligible for tri-party repurchase agreements arranged by the Federal Reserve Open Market Trading Desk, as well as all investment-grade corporate securities, municipal securities, mortgage-backed securities, and asset-backed securities for which a price is available.

How will collateral be valued?

The collateral will be valued by the clearing banks based on a range of pricing services.

That sounds objective and innocuous, right? Guess again. As the investor commented:
Note also that the Fed’s accepting the clearing banks’ valuations on the assets that the brokers present as collateral. That is so very understanding of them. Given that the clearing banks hold similar assets themselves, they are probably grading on a curve here, so as not to mark down their own assets simultaneously, I’m guessing. We’ll give the best student here an A—make that a triple A!—and hey, look, we’re all triple A on this bus. Yikes.

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