“Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s efforts to rescue the economy could result in more than a half trillion dollars of paper losses on the central bank’s books if interest rates rise abruptly from recent levels.
That sum is the difference between the value of securities in the Fed’s portfolio on Dec. 31 and what they may fetch in three years, according to data compiled by MSCI Inc. of New York for Bloomberg News. MSCI applied scenarios devised by the Fed itself for stress-testing the nation’s 19 largest banks.
MSCI sees the market value of Fed holdings shrinking by $547 billion over three years under an adverse scenario that includes an economic contraction and rising inflation. MSCI puts the Fed’s mark-to-market loss at less than half that, or $216 billion, if the economy performs in line with consensus forecasts of gradually rising growth, inflation and interest rates.
The potential losses are unprecedented in the Fed’s 100- year history. Bernanke began describing in detail the risk of lower payments to taxpayers for the first time today in his monetary policy testimony before the Senate Banking Committee saying that “remittances to the Treasury could be quite low for a time” if interest rates “were to rise quickly.” Bernanke didn’t describe the overall interest-rate risk to the portfolio or potential mark-to-market losses. He said the Fed is “confident” it has tools to tighten monetary policy.