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By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Explain the reason for open market operations
  • Evaluate reserve requirements and discount rates
  • Interpret and show bank activity through balance sheets

The most important function of the Federal Reserve is to conduct the nation’s monetary policy    . Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power “to coin money” and “to regulate the value thereof.” As part of the 1913 legislation that created the Federal Reserve, Congress delegated these powers to the Fed. Monetary policy involves managing interest rates and credit conditions, which influences the level of economic activity, as described in more detail below.

A central bank has three traditional tools to implement monetary policy in the economy:

  • Open market operations
  • Changing reserve requirements
  • Changing the discount rate

In discussing how these three tools work, it is useful to think of the central bank as a “bank for banks”—that is, each private-sector bank has its own account at the central bank. We will discuss each of these monetary policy tools in the sections below.

Open market operations

The most commonly used tool of monetary policy in the U.S. is open market operations    . Open market operations take place when the central bank sells or buys U.S. Treasury bonds in order to influence the quantity of bank reserves and the level of interest rates. The specific interest rate targeted in open market operations is the federal funds rate. The name is a bit of a misnomer since the federal funds rate is the interest rate charged by commercial banks making overnight loans to other banks. As such, it is a very short term interest rate, but one that reflects credit conditions in financial markets very well.

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) makes the decisions regarding these open market operations. The FOMC is made up of the seven members of the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors. It also includes five voting members who are drawn, on a rotating basis, from the regional Federal Reserve Banks. The New York district president is a permanent voting member of the FOMC and the other four spots are filled on a rotating, annual basis, from the other 11 districts. The FOMC typically meets every six weeks, but it can meet more frequently if necessary. The FOMC tries to act by consensus; however, the chairman of the Federal Reserve has traditionally played a very powerful role in defining and shaping that consensus. For the Federal Reserve, and for most central banks, open market operations have, over the last few decades, been the most commonly used tool of monetary policy.

Visit this website for the Federal Reserve to learn more about current monetary policy.

To understand how open market operations affect the money supply, consider the balance sheet of Happy Bank, displayed in [link] . [link] (a) shows that Happy Bank starts with $460 million in assets, divided among reserves, bonds and loans, and $400 million in liabilities in the form of deposits, with a net worth of $60 million. When the central bank purchases $20 million in bonds from Happy Bank, the bond holdings of Happy Bank fall by $20 million and the bank’s reserves rise by $20 million, as shown in [link] (b). However, Happy Bank only wants to hold $40 million in reserves (the quantity of reserves that it started with in [link] ) (a), so the bank decides to loan out the extra $20 million in reserves and its loans rise by $20 million, as shown in [link] (c). The open market operation by the central bank causes Happy Bank to make loans instead of holding its assets in the form of government bonds, which expands the money supply. As the new loans are deposited in banks throughout the economy, these banks will, in turn, loan out some of the deposits they receive, triggering the money multiplier discussed in Money and Banking .

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Source:  OpenStax, Principles of macroeconomics for ap® courses. OpenStax CNX. Aug 24, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11864/1.2
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