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Where Did the Federal Reserve Get $85 Billion for AIG?

This article was written by in Investing. 16 comments.


When I heard the news that the Federal Reserve Bank of New York is making $85 billion available to American International Group in the form of loans, one of my first questions was about the source of the money. Does the Federal Reserve keep an emergency fund available to bail out companies during financial crises or does it just create the money out of thin air?

My question was answered on last night’s episode of Marketplace. Since the private sector refused to help AIG, the government stepped in to prevent financial meltdown. The $85 billion is taxpayers’ money, but it’s not funded by taxes we’ve paid. The U.S. Treasury Department sells securities to the public in order to raise the funds used for this bail-out. Yesterday, the Treasury Department auctioned short-term investments. The 35-Day Treasury Bill issued yesterday raised $40 billion in one day.

This auction process allows the investor to name their interest rates, and the Treasury picks the best offers. Many people were willing to lend the government money at a 0% interest rate. The median interest rate for all bids was 0.05%. The Federal Reserve, in turn, is lending money to AIG at a variable rate currently above 11%. If AIG is able to sell its assets and pay back the loans to the Federal Reserve over the next two years, the government stands to make a lot of money thanks to the wide spread in interest rates between the Federal Reserve’s borrowing and lending.

Even if AIG does not pay back the loan, the Treasury Department will still be able to pay back its investors. The government will use whatever means necessary in order to pay the investors as agreed, possibly printing money if necessary.

The fact that the government was able to raise a large amount of money at very low interest rates shows that investors are nervous. They’re willing to invest their money at a very low rate in return for a very safe investment.

Where does bailout money come from?, Marketplace, September 17, 2008
Treasury Auction Results (PDF), U.S. Treasury Department, September 17, 2008

Updated February 7, 2012 and originally published September 18, 2008. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Tom

I guess those investors haven’t heard of FNBO 3.75% savings accounts!

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avatar AJ

Banks like FNBO provide FDIC insurance only upto 100,000. So for any one wishing to get a insurance on their money this is the best way to protect their money. Think hedge funds or mutual funds.

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avatar John T. F.

How is buying a bond with a 0% interest rate an investment? This sounds like a money laundering scheme.

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avatar Jim

The article cited explains: “They were willing to lend the money to the Treasury for free, knowing that they wouldn’t lose it in the stock market or that they wouldn’t have it be held by another financial institution that could undergo some difficulties.” Its certainly odd but I guess there are some people out there that just want to make sure their money is SAFE for the next month. There may be more to the story than that and there could be other specific reasons it pays someone to have money safe for a month even at a 0% rate.

Jim

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avatar lordbuddha

who are the bidders and buyers? Who has a lot of green backs? Chinese? But investing at 0% is lunatic! Factor in inflation and it is a NEGATIVE investment! Does the Treasury say who are the buyers?

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,490 (Platinum)

lordbuddha: I don’t think the Treasury releases that information, but this explains why investors bid 0% on T-bills. I wouldn’t be surprised if many are international investors.

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avatar lordbuddha

So, our international friends are doing us a favor by giving us money. Remember, there is no free lunch (by Milton Friedman?).

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avatar Valerie

Hey guys…how about that “printing more money” as the Plan B to pay off investors? Did any of you ever read about the inflation in Germany post WWI, when people literally were hauling money around in wheel barrows to buy staples?

You can’t keep devaluing the dollar forever and not pay for it eventually!

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avatar UH2L

Valerie is spot on. The money is there, but it will be of lesser value. I would start investing in precious metals, other currencies, or equities in other countries by way of mutual funds or stocks.

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avatar fathersez

Still looks a little dodgy to me. There must be some effects of valuation as compared to foreign currencies. For international investors to put money in at 0%, and risk inflation and currency risks looks a lot risky.

Even domestic investors would have to worry about inflation.

Maybe some answers will come out in a few years.

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avatar smarty pants

I’d lend $ at 0% if I create it out of thin air like the fed does

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avatar El gato

This article and others like it are as phony as the day is long! The reality is that the government is running huge deficits and they are just printing paper that is not backed up by anything but the hope that someday those who buy the treasury debt will get their money back. The reality is that that will NEVER happen. Our government is so far in debt that we are actually bankrupt, and if it weren’t for the Chinese buying up almost all our debt we’d be in default. The Federal Reserve is the biggest scam that Congress ever put over on the people, and it’s absolutely undemocratic and unconstitutional. We the people have been screwed, and in the not too distant future we are going to pay for our apathy!

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avatar Riaan Nel

This article is incorrect. The original $85 billion dollars did not come from a Treasury Auction. The Fed has its own assets acquired through open market operations in influencing the federal funds target rate. All indications are it sold some of these assets to have the $85 billion available for AIG. The US Treasury can only spend money it raises from an auction on legislatively approved projects. It is worth mentioning that the Fed creates money when buying treasuries through its open market operations by crediting the selling banks reserve accounts.

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avatar Riaan Nel

This article is incorrect. The original $85 billion dollars did not come from a Treasury Auction. The Fed has its own assets acquired through open market operations in influencing the federal funds target rate. All indications are it sold some of these assets to have the $85 billion available for AIG. The US Treasury can only spend money it raises from an auction on legislatively approved projects. It is worth mentioning that the Fed creates money when buying treasuries through its open market operations by crediting the selling banks reserve accounts.

Reply to this comment

avatar Riaan Nel

This article is incorrect. The original $85 billion dollars did not come from a Treasury Auction. The Fed has its own assets acquired through open market operations in influencing the federal funds target rate. All indications are it sold some of these assets to have the $85 billion available for AIG. The US Treasury can only spend money it raises from an auction on legislatively approved projects. It is worth mentioning that the Fed creates money when buying treasuries through its open market operations by crediting the selling banks reserve accounts.

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avatar John brock

“Open market operations” = Creating money out of thin air.

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