The Federal Reserve reaped quite a nice reward for its rescue efforts during the financial crisis. According to its preliminary unaudited 2009 results, the central bank made a whopping $52.1 billion in profit. Somewhere, Ron Paul's blood is boiling. But before populist outrage at these profits take hold, let's consider a few things.
First, the vast, vast majority of these profits are going back to taxpayers -- $46.1 billion. As the release says:
Under the Board's policy, the Reserve Banks are required to transfer their net income to the U.S. Treasury after providing for the payment of statutory dividends to member banks and equating surplus to paid-in capital.
Those statutory dividends were $1.4 billion, while the surplus capital was $4.6 billion. Taxpayers get the rest.
So the first point is that taxpayers actually benefit from the Fed's profits. A lot. They got 89% of its net income. As a taxpayer, I'm pretty happy about that.
Now how did the Fed manage to do so well? Well, at the end of the day, the Fed is just a bank. And if you read much business news in 2009, then you know that it was a pretty good year for banks. In late 2008 and early 2009, when most of the Fed's intervention took place, assets were traded at very low prices. Since then, many of those assets' prices have increased. Thus, a lot of those assets that the Fed purchased appreciated substantially in value during 2009. And the Fed had bought a lot of assets through its rescue efforts.
I'll be curious, however, to see the Fed's full financial statements, which have not yet been released. I'd be interested to know which types of securities, specifically had the biggest gains. It must have had some losses on the assets it purchased, so the gains from other assets must have been quite substantial to wipe out those losses and still result in such a healthy profit overall.
Lastly, I wonder what the Treasury will do with a cool $46 billion? Will it reduce the deficit? Put it towards a jobs stimulus program? Lower the amount of money it plans on forcing banks to pay in the form of a punitive tax? Or maybe just squander it.