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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Despite tens of billions of dollars of cash infusions every day for more than a week, things are getting worse, not better, in the systemically important repo market that banks use to access cash.

Driving the news: It's prompted the New York Fed to again increase the size of overnight cash loans offered to $100 billion a day, and to double the size of a 2-week offering to $60 billion.

Why it matters: The dysfunctional market signals "that something’s very wrong with the financial system," former Minneapolis Fed president Narayana Kocherlakota wrote in an op-ed for Bloomberg.

What's happening: The market is designed to operate so that banks with collateral like U.S. Treasury bonds can quickly trade those for cash, but a decreasing level of liquidity has banks "scraping the bottom" and relying on the Fed's infusions to conduct everyday business, strategists tell Axios.

  • The clearest evidence of this market stress was Wednesday when the Fed supplied $75 billion of cash and got $92 billion of offers, showing an extreme lack of available dollars.

What we're hearing: "Nobody knows right now whether this will blow over or not," Danielle DiMartino Booth, CEO of Quill Intelligence and a former adviser to the Dallas Fed, tells Axios.

Threat level: The injections are prompting suspicion the Fed is instituting a clandestine new phase of quantitative easing to boost asset prices and help stimulate the economy, but that's not the case, according to market strategists.

The big picture: The unexpectedly large budget deficits of the Trump administration, combined with the Fed's attempt to unwind its previously $5 trillion balance sheet, have caused a backup in the market. The Fed is now having to supply cash to fix the plumbing in a process that looks eerily similar to QE.

  • Strategists who have spoken with Fed officials are expecting the central bank to unveil a $300 billion–$500 billion standing credit line to the market at its meeting next month, in order to provide consistent liquidity and keep the market functioning.

The bottom line: "What the Fed is trying to do is make sure we don’t have episodes like this in the future," said Ian Lyngen, the head U.S. rates strategist at BMO Capital Markets, a primary dealer that does business directly with the Fed.

  • If the market dysfunction continues, "that’s going to weigh on corporate profitability, the cost of money becomes more expensive, and then it has real economic consequences," Lyngen tells Axios.

Go deeper

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.