Can the Fed Go Bankrupt?

Former Atlanta Fed President William Ford says, technically, yes, the Fed can go bankrupt. He argues that the Fed’s balance sheet is highly leveraged as a result of quantitative easing expanding its balance sheet. The result is that the Federal Reserve is thinly capitalized despite its having just transferred a record $80 billion in profit to the US Treasury. Ford says that this creates a situation in which the Fed would be technically insolvent on a mark-to-market basis if interest rates were to go up 1%.

My take: there is certainly a ‘political’ element to this analysis, namely a desire to rein in the Federal Reserve. But, clearly, the side effect of the Fed’s extreme leverage, the opacity with which it operated during the crisis, and its having bought lower quality assets is that political forces are coming to bear which will restrict its ability to act as aggressively as I believe it will want to during the next downturn. Remember, Ford is a former Fed President. So his view has more credibility in policy circles. Note his comments regarding the lack of GAAP accounting at the Federal Reserve. This is certainly something to keep in mind regarding likely future monetary policy.

Video below.


Edward Harrison is the founder of Credit Writedowns and a former career diplomat, investment banker and technology executive with over twenty years of business experience. He is also a regular economic and financial commentator on BBC World News, CNBC Television, Business News Network, CBC, Fox Television and RT Television. He speaks six languages and reads another five, skills he uses to provide a more global perspective. Edward holds an MBA in Finance from Columbia University and a BA in Economics from Dartmouth College. Edward also writes a premium financial newsletter. Sign up here for a free trial.