Only minutes before today's auction was scheduled to complete (while most, if not all, offers from the primarily dealers were presumably in), the European Union’s energy commissioner warned of ‘further catastrophic events’ at Japan’s stricken nuclear power plant. Shortly thereafter, the NY Fed cancelled the POMO--to our knowledge, an unprecedented act. According to Tyler Durden of Zero Hedge, Reuters reported the cancellation at 10:57 or 10:58 am.
In the minutes that followed, equities and other risk markets tumbled, while the very 5 and 7 Year Treasury Notes the Fed would end up buying surged in price over 50 bps (0.50%). At 11:24 am, after prices had settled a bit (though were still materially higher than before), the NY Fed restarted the POMO, which finally closed at 12:04 pm. It would end up purchasing a total of $6.580 billion in Treasury securities (reported at par), with a heavy concentration in the 5 Year tenor at $5.089 billion (of which $3.209 billion had been issued by the Treasury in the last two months).
Using 5 Year Note futures as a proxy, we have calculated the difference in average price between what the NY Fed would have paid had it not cancelled the first auction versus what it actually ended up paying: $15.7 million ($12.1 million for the 5's and $3.6 million for the 7's). This amount was simply pocketed by the primary dealers and is now a liability of the Federal Reserve, and putatively the US taxpayer.
The below chart illustrates the sequence of events with the 5 Year Note futures (click for large image).
It is now incumbent upon the NY Fed to issue an explanation detailing its decision making process today. Just why did it cancel the auction when prices were starting to move in its favor (against the dealers)? If Mr. Frost, who supervises the purchase operations at the NY Fed, was telling the truth when he told the NY Times, "We are looking to get the best price we can for the taxpayer", then why did the opposite occur today?
Indeed Zero Hedge has chronicled how the Fed serially purchases the richest spline in its operations, to the benefit of the primary dealers (see here, here, here, here, here, and here). We also reiterate and incorporate herein our previously expressed concerns regarding the NY Fed's black box computer program that virtually runs the Fed's daily auctions. Just who programmed it, and how does it assess "fair value"?
As is usually the case with the Federal Reserve, there are more questions than answers.
Update: Reuters has backtracked with the following:
EU Energy Commissioner did not say a catastrophe was going to happen, he just expressed his fear - spokesman