From the Washington Post

Where's the Primer...how does the average Joe get anything out of this?

"Fed officials do not make policy with an eye toward maximizing profits. They are charged by law with managing the nation's money supply to keep employment high and prices stable, and earnings fluctuate depending on a wide range of factors as they pursue that goal. In the crisis, the central bank's policy has been to create money and use it to buy a wide variety of assets, which in turn pay interest.

"In effect, the unprecedented range of actions taken to address the crisis has made the Fed's balance sheet more like that of a private bank. A firm such as Bank of America takes money from depositors, whom it pays little or nothing in interest, and lends it out at significantly higher rates. The Fed, similarly, takes money that banks keep on deposit, at a rate of 0.25 percent, and lends it to the U.S. government by buying Treasury securities and, lately, to home buyers and other private borrowers though more exotic investments.

"While that resulted in higher earnings in 2009, it exposes the Fed to more risks down the road. "They've moved up the risk-return curve, as they have more long-term assets and more things that involve credit risk," said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial.

"If the price of Treasury bonds or mortgage-related securities issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were to fall in the years ahead, and Fed leaders decided they need to drain money from the financial system by selling off some of their portfolio, the central bank would lose money. "If they do enough asset sales and rates go high enough, that could eat into future profits pretty substantially," said Michael Feroli, an economist at J.P. Morgan Chase.

"Even as the Fed comes to resemble private banks in terms of its balance sheet and its earnings power, there remains one big difference. The CEO of the Federal Reserve, Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, received a modest cost-of-living raise for 2010, despite the record earnings: He now makes $199,700, with no bonus at all."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...l?hpid=topnews