Fed Financial Statements: $6 Billion Drop in Fed Remittances

By: C.Jay Engel

As the Fed continues to increase the rate of interest it pays on excess reserves, the Fed's profits that are left over are slowly going to shrink in size. Since the Fed sends its profits to the US Treasury each year, the US Treasury will be receiving less. The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday:

The Federal Reserve sent $91.5 billion in profits to the Treasury Department last year, a $6 billion decline that officials have long expected as a result of rising interest rates.

The Fed’s total net income declined by $7.6 billion, to $92.4 billion, according to the Fed’s audited financial statements released Friday. The decline was primarily the result of higher interest payments it made to banks on the reserves they keep at the central bank.

David Howden has explained this process– and the implications for "Fed independence"– rather nicely:

Each year, the Fed remits to the US Treasury its net income, and thus provides the federal government with an important source of funding.

For the US Treasury, Fed remittances are something of a free lunch. When someone buys a Treasury bond, the government must pay them interest. This applies to the Fed as well, but then at year-end the Fed remits the interest back to the Treasury.

As much as economists talk about the independence that the Fed holds from Congress, these remittances represent a strong link. In fact, since they enable federal spending they create a form of quasi-fiscal policy for the Fed to use, in addition to its more common monetary policy options.

The slowly decreasing profits remitted to the Treasury each year is going to have implications for the increasing tension between the Trump administration and the Fed. If Trump wants to get his tax cuts through, he's going to need all the revenue help he can get. It may be even worse:

The payments are likely to shrink in the coming years as the Fed raises short-term interest rates—a process that involves paying banks higher interest on reserves they keep at the Fed—and when it eventually shrinks its balance sheet. Fed economists estimate the payments will fall to around $40 billion annually by 2020 but would likely rebound to about $65 billion a year by 2025.

A $40 billion payment in 2020 is less than half this year's $91.5 billion payment, which means that, assuming today's budget levels there's a massive $50 billion drop in revenue for the Federal Government, all things equal. Of course, spending goes up every year and so by 2020, who knows what may happen. 

In the meantime, will the Fed eventually be "forced" reverse course on interest rates to put a band-aid on the absurd Federal budget?