The debt limit has been raised. The Treasury has flooded the market with supply, and will continue to do so for another month or two. But there’s been no disaster in the market. The Fed’s RRP slush fund, designed to absorb the flood of supply, has even grown, thanks to year end window dressing.
Even after that window is undressed this week, there will still be around $1.6 trillion in that fund to start. That is overnight liquid money that holders will use to buy new Treasury issuance. The RRPs will gradually be drawn down. But there’s enough there to absorb the ongoing supply bulge that the government needs to issue to rebuild its cash and repay the internal accounts it raided while the debt limit was in place.
We don’t know exactly how much more the government needs to get its internal accounts back to normal, but it could achieve that purpose very quickly given the availability of the RRP fund. It holds more than enough cash to fund that issuance.
That RRP fund, with it’s baseline starting point of approximately $1.6 trillion also gives the Fed cover to wind down QE to zero in March. The Fed will cut QE, and everything will look hunky dory. Wall Street will conclude that “tapering” QE was no big deal. Market complacency will be thick. Get out your carving knives.
Once the Fed has cut QE to zero, and RRP holders decide that they will spend no more to support the market, is that when the crisis begins? No, not immediately.
First, there will be the annual tax windfall that occurs in March and April, when corporate and individual income taxes for the preceding year come in. The Treasury always uses that cash to temporarily pay down outstanding debt. The holders of that debt get money back. They use that cash to buy longer term paper, and in some cases to buy stocks. So we get a seasonal rally every year in March and April.
But in late May, the Treasury starts net borrowing again. Then we watch. We watch to see how that RRP fund is doing. Once it turns flat, and there’s no more QE, and the seasonal tax windfall cash has been spent, that’s when the trouble starts in the market.
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