I’ve been thinking about what Fed chairman Ben Bernanke said in his press conference about reinvestment of maturing assets from the Fed’s portfolio.
“At some point, presumably early in our exit process, we will – I suspect based on conversations we’ve been having around the FOMC table it’s very likely that an early step would be to stop reinvesting all or a part of the securities which are maturing. But take note that that step, although a relatively modest step, does constitute a policy tightening, because it would be lowering the size of our balance sheet and therefore would be expected to essentially tighten financial conditions.”
If it is the stock of Fed assets that matters, as the Fed believes, there is no doubt that this is literally correct. Reduce the size of the balance sheet and you tighten monetary policy.
But the direct tightening would be incredibly small. I think a much more pertinent reason for Mr Bernanke’s comments is to send a signal that short-term interest rates are going to stay low and discourage the market from pricing in an earlier tightening.