American Prospect: Unsanitized: BlackRock Is Buyer and Seller

May 30, 2020 Media

Every thirty days, the Federal Reserve is required to provide periodic reports on its emergency lending facilities, including the ones set up through the CARES Act. For the first time, one of these reports, released on Friday, coincides with actual Fed purchases from its money cannon. Readers of Unsanitized this week will know that the Fed created trillions in wealth by backstopping financial markets without firing the cannon at all. But you can really only do that once; at some point you have to start spending to maintain credibility. The Fed’s doing so. What are they spending it on?

The only purchases thus far have come from the Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility (SMCCF). There’s a primary market version that would buy corporate debt directly from issuers. This secondary market facility buys shares in funds that are agglomerations of corporate debt, or “exchange-traded funds” (ETFs). About $1.58 billion were sold in the period covered here, between May 14-20.

BlackRock is allegedly doing this for charity, waiving its investment advisory fees for the Fed purchases. But that’s the wrong way to think about this. “What we’re seeing is that this arrangement benefits the company in a number of ways,” said Graham Steele, senior fellow at the American Economic Liberties Project. “First, the Fed buys its ETFs directly. Second, the rest of the market plows into those ETFs anticipating the Fed’s purchases. And third, there are executives that sit above the company’s firewalls and may have access to information about all of these transactions. Regardless of whether the company is charging fees or not, it is sophisticated enough to find ample ways of making a profit.”

So it’s not just large corporations benefiting from cheaper borrowing, which has risen to a record level since the Fed announced its backstop. It’s not just investors in the various capital markets being propped up. It’s the administrator of the purchases itself getting rich from this intervention.