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And we're not talking about what you'll hear in the mainstream media about whether the unemployment rate is finally low enough, or whether U.S. economic growth is finally strong enough to warrant tightening monetary policy.
No, what the Federal Reserve fears most is a problem of its own creation: the consequences of its bloated balance sheet.
Let me explain.
Many Americans know by now that the Fed's easy money policies have included not just near-zero interest rates, but several programs of bond-buying known as "quantitative easing," or QE.
Since the start of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, the Federal Reserve has sunk $3.1 trillion into QE, which has bloated the liabilities on the central bank's balance sheet to approximately $4.3 trillion.
Meanwhile, the Fed's capital reserves – the assets on the balance sheet – amount to a mere $56.2 billion.
That means the Federal Reserve, the biggest bank in the world, is leveraged 77-to-1; its liabilities are 77 times its assets. Just for some perspective, that's more than double the leverage that Lehman Brothers had just before it failed.
And the problem could be much worse than it appears.
You see, the Federal Reserve reports the bonds that it holds at face value, not what their actual market value is – what a buyer would be willing to pay, known as "mark to market."
So it's possible that the value of the Fed's vast bond holdings have already slipped below the value of its assets, which technically would mean the central bank is insolvent.
That's not hard to imagine, as much of the assets purchased in the QE programs were "toxic," particularly the mortgage-backed securities that triggered the financial crisis.
And that brings us to why the committee members at next week's FOMC meeting are so terrified of raising interest rates…
The Federal Reserve Is Trapped in Its Own Web
About the Author
David Zeiler, Associate Editor for Money Morning at Money Map Press, has been a journalist for more than 35 years, including 18 spent at The Baltimore Sun. He has worked as a writer, editor, and page designer at different times in his career. He's interviewed a number of well-known personalities - ranging from punk rock icon Joey Ramone to Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak.
Over the course of his journalistic career, Dave has covered many diverse subjects. Since arriving at Money Morning in 2011, he has focused primarily on technology. He's an expert on both Apple and cryptocurrencies. He started writing about Apple for The Sun in the mid-1990s, and had an Apple blog on The Sun's web site from 2007-2009. Dave's been writing about Bitcoin since 2011 - long before most people had even heard of it. He even mined it for a short time.
Dave has a BA in English and Mass Communications from Loyola University Maryland.