The Federal Reserve pushed its balance sheet beyond $3 trillion for the first time this week while undertaking open-ended purchases of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities to combat 7.8 percent unemployment.
The Fed’s total assets climbed by $48 billion in the past week to $3.01 trillion as of Jan. 23, according to a release from the central bank Thursday in Washington. Holdings of Treasuries climbed by $7.8 billion while mortgage-backed securities in the Fed portfolio rose by $35.6 billion.
The bond buying is part of Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s campaign to use the full force of the central bank’s balance sheet to stoke the economic recovery. The Fed began purchasing $40 billion of mortgage-backed securities a month in September and this month added $45 billion in Treasury securities to that pace, bringing total monthly purchases to $85 billion.
The Fed’s balance sheet is now more than triple its size before the financial crisis. Fed assets stood at $924 billion on Sept. 10, 2008, the week before the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. helped spark a global financial crisis.
The Fed responded to the financial crisis first with emergency credit programs, and then with bond purchases known as QE or quantitative easing. In the first round of purchases, the Fed bought $1.7 trillion of securities. In a second round of QE, begun in November 2010, the central bank added an additional $600 billion of Treasuries to its holdings.
Fed officials have said their $85 billion pace of purchases will continue until the labor market improves “substantially.”
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