So the Federal Reserve is reporting that interest on excess reserves (IOER) payments hit $25.9 billion in 2017. This amount is more than double the dollar size of the IOER payments in 2016 as seen below.
This increase is understandable given the rise in the Fed's short-term interest rate target and the size of its balance sheet. But, as I have noted before, this is horrible optics. For the largest recipients of the IOER payments are large domestic banks and foreign banks. As seen in the figure below, they hold most of the excess reserves and therefore earn most of the IOER payments.
Put differently, the systematically-important or "too-big-to-fail" banks that were bailed out during the crisis and are still implicitly subsidized by the government as well as foreign banks are the main recipients of IOER. It gets worse. Note in the table above that the higher IOER payments are associated with declining remittances to the Treasury Department. The Fed, in other words, is allocating more funds to big banks and less to the public. This is easy fodder for the "Wall Street vs. Main Street" critics. Because of this, I suspect the IOER in its current form will be increasingly a tough sell to make to Congress.
There is an easy fix to this problem. The Fed can move from its current floor system to a corridor system. Under the latter, the balance sheet can shrink down so that there are few reserve balances in the banking system1. The Fed can still have IOER, but it would be less than short-term market interest rates.2 The IOER would set an floor for short-term interest rates and the Fed's lending rate would be the ceiling for short-term market interest rates. Together this would constitute a corridor system and give the Fed ample control over interest rates.
Update: To clarify the difference between a corridor and floor system, here is a figure distinguishing the two approaches from the NY Fed. Note in both cases the IOER remains.
1Just because a corridor system would have fewer reserves does not mean it would necessarily be a "scarce-reserve" balance sheet. Reserve scarcity is not about the quantity of reserves, but about their supply relative to their demand. All a smaller Fed balance sheet does is affect the supply of reserves. The Fed can also reduce reserve demand by lowering IOER. Depending on how it adjusts IOER will determine whether there is reserve scarcity. Consequently, observers need to be careful to avoid automatically associating small reserve balances with reserve scarcity.
2In the current floor system, IOER is above short-term market interest rates and is the source of many problems with the system.