Federal Reserve System
|Federal Reserve System|
|Established||December 23, 1913|
|Central bank of||United States|
|Currency||United States dollar|
|ISO 4217 Code||USD|
|Base borrowing rate||0%–0.25%|
|Part of a series on Government|
|Banking in the United States|
The Federal Reserve System (also known as the Federal Reserve, and informally as the Fed) is the central banking system of the United States. It was created on December 23, 1913 with the enactment of the Federal Reserve Act, largely in response to a series of financial panics, particularly a severe panic in 1907. Over time, the roles and responsibilities of the Federal Reserve System have expanded and its structure has evolved. Events such as the Great Depression were major factors leading to changes in the system. Its duties today, according to official Federal Reserve documentation, are to conduct the nation's monetary policy, supervise and regulate banking institutions, maintain the stability of the financial system and provide financial services to depository institutions, the U.S. government, and foreign official institutions.
The task of the Federal Reserve System is to maintain employment, keep prices stable, and keep interest rates at a moderate level by regulating monetary policy. Components of the Federal Reserve System also supervise banks, provide financial services, and conduct research on the United States economy and the economies in the surrounding region.
The Federal Reserve System's structure is composed of the presidentially appointed Board of Governors (or Federal Reserve Board), the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), twelve regional Federal Reserve Banks located in major cities throughout the nation, numerous privately owned U.S. member banks and various advisory councils. The FOMC is the committee responsible for setting monetary policy and consists of all seven members of the Board of Governors and the twelve regional bank presidents, though only five bank presidents vote at any given time. The Federal Reserve System has both private and public components, and was designed to serve the interests of both the general public and private bankers. The result is a structure that is considered unique among central banks. It is also unusual in that an entity outside of the central bank, namely the United States Department of the Treasury, creates the currency used.
According to the Board of Governors, the Federal Reserve is independent within government in that "its monetary policy decisions do not have to be approved by the President or anyone else in the executive or legislative branches of government." Its authority is derived from statutes enacted by the U.S. Congress and the System is subject to congressional oversight. The members of the Board of Governors, including its chairman and vice-chairman, are chosen by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The government also exercises some control over the Federal Reserve by appointing and setting the salaries of the system's highest-level employees. Thus the Federal Reserve has both private and public aspects. The U.S. Government receives all of the system's annual profits, after a statutory dividend of 6% on member banks' capital investment is paid, and an account surplus is maintained. In 2010, the Federal Reserve made a profit of $82 billion and transferred $79 billion to the U.S. Treasury.
Central banking in the United States
Timeline of central banking in the United States
Creation of First and Second Central Bank
The first U.S. institution with central banking responsibilities was the First Bank of the United States, chartered by Congress and signed into law by President George Washington on February 25, 1791 at the urging of Alexander Hamilton. This was done despite strong opposition from Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, among numerous others. The charter was for twenty years and expired in 1811 under President Madison, because Congress refused to renew it.
In 1816, however, Madison revived it in the form of the Second Bank of the United States. Years later, early renewal of the bank's charter became the primary issue in the reelection of President Andrew Jackson. After Jackson, who was opposed to the central bank, was reelected, he pulled the government's funds out of the bank. Nicholas Biddle, President of the Second Bank of the United States, responded by contracting the money supply to pressure Jackson to renew the bank's charter forcing the country into a recession, which the bank blamed on Jackson's policies. Interestingly, Jackson is the only President to completely pay off the national debt. The bank's charter was not renewed in 1836. From 1837 to 1862, in the Free Banking Era there was no formal central bank. From 1862 to 1913, a system of national banks was instituted by the 1863 National Banking Act. A series of bank panics, in 1873, 1893, and 1907, provided strong demand for the creation of a centralized banking system.
Creation of Third Central Bank
Key laws affecting the Federal Reserve have been:
The primary motivation for creating the Federal Reserve System was to address banking panics. Other purposes are stated in the Federal Reserve Act, such as "to furnish an elastic currency, to afford means of rediscounting commercial paper, to establish a more effective supervision of banking in the United States, and for other purposes". Before the founding of the Federal Reserve, the United States underwent several financial crises. A particularly severe crisis in 1907 led Congress to enact the Federal Reserve Act in 1913. Today the Federal Reserve System has broader responsibilities than only ensuring the stability of the financial system.
Current functions of the Federal Reserve System include:
Addressing the problem of bank panics
Check Clearing System
Because some banks refused to clear checks from certain others during times of economic uncertainty, a check-clearing system was created in the Federal Reserve system. It is briefly described in The Federal Reserve System—Purposes and Functions as follows:
Lender of last resort
In the United States the Federal Reserve serves as the lender of last resort to those institutions that cannot obtain credit elsewhere and the collapse of which would have serious implications for the economy. It took over this role from the private sector "clearing houses" which operated during the Free Banking Era; whether public or private, the availability of liquidity was intended to prevent bank runs.
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, "the Federal Reserve has the authority and financial resources to act as 'lender of last resort' by extending credit to depository institutions or to other entities in unusual circumstances involving a national or regional emergency, where failure to obtain credit would have a severe adverse impact on the economy." The Federal Reserve System's role as lender of last resort has been criticized because it shifts the risk and responsibility away from lenders and borrowers and places it on others in the form of inflation.
Through its discount and credit operations, Reserve Banks provide liquidity to banks to meet short-term needs stemming from seasonal fluctuations in deposits or unexpected withdrawals. Longer term liquidity may also be provided in exceptional circumstances. The rate the Fed charges banks for these loans is the discount rate (officially the primary credit rate).
By making these loans, the Fed serves as a buffer against unexpected day-to-day fluctuations in reserve demand and supply. This contributes to the effective functioning of the banking system, alleviates pressure in the reserves market and reduces the extent of unexpected movements in the interest rates. For example, on September 16, 2008, the Federal Reserve Board authorized an $85 billion loan to stave off the bankruptcy of international insurance giant American International Group (AIG).
Balance between private banks and responsibility of governments
The system was designed out of a compromise between the competing philosophies of privatization and government regulation. In 2006 Donald L. Kohn, vice chairman of the Board of Governors, summarized the history of this compromise:
Government regulation and supervision
National payments system
The Federal Reserve plays an important role in the U.S. payments system. The twelve Federal Reserve Banks provide banking services to depository institutions and to the federal government. For depository institutions, they maintain accounts and provide various payment services, including collecting checks, electronically transferring funds, and distributing and receiving currency and coin. For the federal government, the Reserve Banks act as fiscal agents, paying Treasury checks; processing electronic payments; and issuing, transferring, and redeeming U.S. government securities.
In passing the Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act of 1980, Congress reaffirmed its intention that the Federal Reserve should promote an efficient nationwide payments system. The act subjects all depository institutions, not just member commercial banks, to reserve requirements and grants them equal access to Reserve Bank payment services. It also encourages competition between the Reserve Banks and private-sector providers of payment services by requiring the Reserve Banks to charge fees for certain payments services listed in the act and to recover the costs of providing these services over the long run.
The Federal Reserve plays a vital role in both the nation's retail and wholesale payments systems, providing a variety of financial services to depository institutions. Retail payments are generally for relatively small-dollar amounts and often involve a depository institution's retail clients—individuals and smaller businesses. The Reserve Banks' retail services include distributing currency and coin, collecting checks, and electronically transferring funds through the automated clearinghouse system. By contrast, wholesale payments are generally for large-dollar amounts and often involve a depository institution's large corporate customers or counterparties, including other financial institutions. The Reserve Banks' wholesale services include electronically transferring funds through the Fedwire Funds Service and transferring securities issued by the U.S. government, its agencies, and certain other entities through the Fedwire Securities Service. Because of the large amounts of funds that move through the Reserve Banks every day, the System has policies and procedures to limit the risk to the Reserve Banks from a depository institution's failure to make or settle its payments.
The Federal Reserve Banks began a multi-year restructuring of their check operations in 2003 as part of a long-term strategy to respond to the declining use of checks by consumers and businesses and the greater use of electronics in check processing. The Reserve Banks will have reduced the number of full-service check processing locations from 45 in 2003 to 4 by early 2011.
Board of Governors
List of members of the Board of Governors
The current members of the Board of Governors are as follows:
Federal Open Market Committee
Federal Reserve Banks
Legal status of regional Federal Reserve Banks
The Federal Reserve Banks have an intermediate legal status, with some features of private corporations and some features of public federal agencies. The United States has an interest in the Federal Reserve Banks as tax-exempt federally-created instrumentalities whose profits belong to the federal government, but this interest is not proprietary. In Lewis v. United States, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit stated that: "The Reserve Banks are not federal instrumentalities for purposes of the FTCA [the Federal Tort Claims Act], but are independent, privately owned and locally controlled corporations." The opinion went on to say, however, that: "The Reserve Banks have properly been held to be federal instrumentalities for some purposes." Another relevant decision is Scott v. Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, in which the distinction is made between Federal Reserve Banks, which are federally-created instrumentalities, and the Board of Governors, which is a federal agency.
Regarding the structural relationship between the twelve Federal Reserve banks and the various commercial (member) banks:
- [ . . . ] the "ownership" of the Reserve Banks by the commercial banks is symbolic; they do not exercise the proprietary control associated with the concept of ownership nor share, beyond the statutory dividend, in Reserve Bank "profits." [ . . .] Bank ownership and election at the base are therefore devoid of substantive significance, despite the superficial appearance of private bank control that the formal arrangement creates.
According to the web site for the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, "[m]ore than one-third of U.S. commercial banks are members of the Federal Reserve System. National banks must be members; state chartered banks may join by meeting certain requirements."
The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Reserve banks, and the individual member banks undergo regular audits by the GAO and an outside auditor. GAO audits are limited and do not cover "most of the Fed’s monetary policy actions or decisions, including discount window lending (direct loans to financial institutions), open-market operations and any other transactions made under the direction of the Federal Open Market Committee" ...[nor may the GAO audit] "dealings with foreign governments and other central banks." Various statutory changes, including the Federal Reserve Transparency Act, have been proposed to broaden the scope of the audits. Bloomberg L.P. News brought a lawsuit against the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System to force the Board to reveal the identities of firms for which it has provided guarantees. Bloomberg, L.P. won at the trial court level, and as of early September 2010 the case is on appeal at the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Interbank lending is the basis of policy
The Federal Reserve sets monetary policy by influencing the Federal funds rate, which is the rate of interbank lending of excess reserves. The rate that banks charge each other for these loans is determined in the interbank market but the Federal Reserve influences this rate through the three "tools" of monetary policy described in the Tools section below.
The Federal Funds rate is a short-term interest rate the FOMC focuses on directly. This rate ultimately affects the longer-term interest rates throughout the economy. A summary of the basis and implementation of monetary policy is stated by the Federal Reserve:
There are three main tools of monetary policy that the Federal Reserve uses to influence the amount of reserves in private banks:
Federal funds rate and open market operations
Another instrument of monetary policy adjustment employed by the Federal Reserve System is the fractional reserve requirement, also known as the required reserve ratio. The required reserve ratio sets the balance that the Federal Reserve System requires a depository institution to hold in the Federal Reserve Banks, which depository institutions trade in the federal funds market discussed above. The required reserve ratio is set by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. The reserve requirements have changed over time and some of the history of these changes is published by the Federal Reserve.
In order to address problems related to the subprime mortgage crisis and United States housing bubble, several new tools have been created. The first new tool, called the Term Auction Facility, was added on December 12, 2007. It was first announced as a temporary tool but there have been suggestions that this new tool may remain in place for a prolonged period of time. Creation of the second new tool, called the Term Securities Lending Facility, was announced on March 11, 2008. The main difference between these two facilities is that the Term Auction Facility is used to inject cash into the banking system whereas the Term Securities Lending Facility is used to inject treasury securities into the banking system. Creation of the third tool, called the Primary Dealer Credit Facility (PDCF), was announced on March 16, 2008. The PDCF was a fundamental change in Federal Reserve policy because now the Fed is able to lend directly to primary dealers, which was previously against Fed policy. The differences between these 3 new facilities is described by the Federal Reserve:
A little-used tool of the Federal Reserve is the quantitative policy. With that the Federal Reserve actually buys back corporate bonds and mortgage backed securities held by banks or other financial institutions. This in effect puts money back into the financial institutions and allows them to make loans and conduct normal business. The Federal Reserve Board used this policy in the early 1990s when the U.S. economy experienced the savings and loan crisis.
The bursting of the United States housing bubble prompted the Fed to buy mortgage-backed securities for the first time in November 2008. Over six weeks, a total of $1.25 trillion were purchased in order stabilize the housing market, about one-fifth of all U.S. government-backed mortgages.
Measurement of economic variables
The Federal Reserve records and publishes large amounts of data. A few websites where data is published are at the Board of Governors Economic Data and Research page, the Board of Governors statistical releases and historical data page, and at the St. Louis Fed's FRED (Federal Reserve Economic Data) page. The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) examines many economic indicators prior to determining monetary policy.
Some criticism involves economic data compiled by the Fed. The Fed sponsors much of the monetary economics research in the U.S., and Lawrence H. White objects that this makes it less likely for researchers to publish findings challenging the status quo.
Net worth of households and nonprofit organizations
Personal consumption expenditures price index
Inflation and the economy
There are two types of inflation that are closely tied to each other. Monetary inflation is an increase in the money supply. Price inflation is a sustained increase in the general level of prices, which is equivalent to a decline in the value or purchasing power of money. If the supply of money and credit increases too rapidly over many months (monetary inflation), the result will usually be price inflation. Price inflation does not always increase in direct proportion to monetary inflation; it is also affected by the velocity of money and other factors. With price inflation, a dollar buys less and less over time.
The effects of monetary and price inflation include:
One of the keys to understanding the Federal Reserve is the Federal Reserve balance sheet (or balance statement). In accordance with Section 11 of the Federal Reserve Act, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System publishes once each week the "Consolidated Statement of Condition of All Federal Reserve Banks" showing the condition of each Federal Reserve bank and a consolidated statement for all Federal Reserve banks. The Board of Governors requires that excess earnings of the Reserve Banks be transferred to the Treasury as interest on Federal Reserve notes.
Below is the balance sheet as of July 6, 2011 (in billions of dollars):
NOTE: The Fed balance sheet shown in this article has assets, liabilities and net equity that do not add up correctly. The Fed balance sheet is missing the item "Reserve Balances with Federal Reserve Banks" which would make the balance sheet balance.
Official Federal Reserve websites and information
- Federal Reserve Reports to Congress
- The Federal Reserve in Plain English—An easy-to-read guide to the structure and functions of the Federal Reserve System
- ebook: The Federal Reserve System—Purposes and Functions
- Ask Dr. Econ – An educational resource from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco
- Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve — Official website
- "The Federal Reserve System in Brief" — at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
- "What is the Fed?" — at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
- Decision of the Reserve Bank Organization Committee Determining the Federal Reserve Districts and the Location of Federal Reserve Banks under the Federal Reserve Act Approved December 23, 1913, April 2, 1914; With Statement of the Committee in Relation Thereto, April 10, 1914. 27 pages. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1914.
- Federal Reserve District Divisions and Location of Federal Reserve Banks and Head Offices, Hearings before the Reserve Bank Organization Committee United States. Reserve Bank Organization Committee, 1914.
- Historical Beginnings ... The Federal Reserve by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston
- Federal Reserve Districts and Banks
- Federal Reserve Education
- Federal Reserve Financial Services
Open Market operations
Federal Reserve publications
- Modern Money Mechanics (out of print)
- Publications Catalog
- Federal Funds Rate Changes(Base Deposit Rate)
Other websites describing the Federal Reserve
- "How 'The Fed' Works" — at HowStuffWorks.com
- "Federal Reserve Update" — money-rates.com
- Macroeconomic Effects of Interest Rate Cuts, by Jason Cawley, Wolfram Demonstrations Project, 2007.
- All 12 Federal Reserve Banks on a Google Map
Sites critical of the Federal Reserve
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