The Federal Reserve announced today that it will form a special purpose vehicle (the Commercial Paper Funding Facility or CPFF) that will purchase commercial paper in the marketplace from qualified issuers. This raises many questions, such as whether the Fed is now rationing credit to US companies without oversight.
The Federal Reserve is already in effect purchasing asset-backed commercial paper through its Asset-Backed Commercial Paper Money Market Liquidity Facility (ABCPMMLF) where it is lending money to banks to purchase commercial paper that is then pledged to the Federal Reserve. The twist here is that the loans to the banks are non-recourse, so if the commercial paper defaults the Federal Reserve is stuck, not the bank that borrowed the funds – same risk as ownership if you ask me. This action was authorized pursuant to section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act (see below). The commercial paper that banks are purchasing and pledging to the Federal Reserve under the ABCPMMLF is secured by the assets backing the asset-backed commercial paper.
The Federal Reserve is now expanding its use of this authority to purchase commercial paper directly from issuers that may be non-bank companies raising the prospect that the Federal Reserve will be rationing credit to US businesses. There is also an issue of authorization, and it seems definitions are malleable in times of crisis. From today's announcement:
The CPFF will be structured as a credit facility to a special purpose vehicle (SPV) authorized under section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act. The SPV will serve as a funding backstop to facilitate the issuance of term commercial paper by eligible issuers.
According to section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act:
3. Discounts for Individuals, Partnerships, and Corporations
In unusual and exigent circumstances, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, by the affirmative vote of not less than five members, may authorize any Federal reserve bank, during such periods as the said board may determine, at rates established in accordance with the provisions of section 14, subdivision (d), of this Act, to discount for any individual, partnership, or corporation, notes, drafts, and bills of exchange when such notes, drafts, and bills of exchange are indorsed or otherwise secured to the satisfaction of the Federal Reserve bank (emphasis added): Provided, That before discounting any such note, draft, or bill of exchange for an individual, partnership, or corporation the Federal reserve bank shall obtain evidence that such individual, partnership, or corporation is unable to secure adequate credit accommodations from other banking institutions. All such discounts for individuals, partnerships, or corporations shall be subject to such limitations, restrictions, and regulations as the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System may prescribe.
According to the highlighted section of the Act the commercial paper purchased by the Fed must be SECURED. My understanding of security in lending transactions is that there is a guaranty or some form of asset available to the lender that can be sold in the event of a default, the proceeds of which would be likely to repay the debt. According to the Federal Reserve's release:
Commercial paper that is not ABCP must be secured to the satisfaction of the Federal Reserve. The commercial paper may be secured in one of the following ways:
(i) The issuer pays the SPV an upfront fee based on the commercial paper initially sold to the SPV and a further fee based on subsequent commercial paper sales above that amount (emphasis added); or
(ii) The issuer obtains an indorsement or guarantee of the issuer's obligations on the commercial paper sold to the SPV that is satisfactory to the Federal Reserve; or
(iii) The issuer provides collateral arrangements that are satisfactory to the Federal Reserve; or
(iv) The issuer otherwise provides security satisfactory to the Federal Reserve.
The Federal Reserve will consult with market participants about other methods for issuers of non-ABCP commercial paper to provide satisfactory security to the Federal Reserve.
I wonder how being paid a fee for purchasing commercial paper meets the definition of SECURED under the Federal Reserve Act quoted above. It sounds more like creation of an insurance pool to me. Shouldn't the Federal Reserve obtain Congressional approval to purchase commercial paper from issuers in this manner? The authority is not clear to me.
I do not object to the Federal Reserve taking whatever action is within its authority that could help avert a financial disaster. What I do object to is when institutions bend the meaning of laws to accomplish what they want but then speak about the rule of law and the need to police the actions of those who seek to avoid compliance. Isn't this exactly how we got into this mess in the first place? I am also troubled by the fact that the Federal Reserve can now be seen as rationing credit to US corporations and that this situation is ripe for abuse through influence. There should, in my opinion, be oversight.