As of June, 2008, the fund held assets worth $51.2 billion.
The U.S. Exchange Stabilization Fund was established at the Treasury Department by a provision in the Gold Reserve Act of 31 January 1934. . It was intended as a response to Britain's Exchange Equalisation Account. The fund began operations in April 1934, financed by $2 billion of the $2.8 billion paper profit the government realized from raising the price of gold to $35 an ounce from $20.67. The Act authorized the ESF to use its capital to deal in gold and foreign exchange in order to stabilize the exchange value of the dollar. The ESF as originally designed was a creature of the Executive Branch not subject to legislative oversight.
The Gold Reserve Act authorized the ESF to use such assets as were not needed for exchange market stabilization to deal in government securities. The Fund had no statutory authority, however, to engage in other activities that it began to undertake. The principal such extraneous activity it devoted itself to was lending dollars to politically favored governments.
In 1938-40, the director of the Division of Monetary Research, Harry Dexter White, worked on a proposal for loans to Latin America and participated in plans for an Inter-American Bank, which did not materialize. The plan for an Inter-American Bank, however, inspired White’s first draft of the subsequent plans for the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank that White prepared in 1941 at Secretary of the U.S. Treasury Henry Morgenthau’s direction.
The Special Drawing Rights Act of 1968, , likewise provided that any Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) allocated by the International Monetary Fund or otherwise acquired by the United States are resources of the ESF. In accordance with the Act, SDRs can be "monetized" (i.e., converted into dollars) by having the Secretary of the Treasury issue Special Drawing Rights Certificates (SDRCs) to the Federal Reserve System. The amount of SDRCs are limited to the dollar value of the ESF's SDR holdings. The dollar proceeds of such monetizations are assets of the ESF, and the SDRCs are a counterpart liability of the ESF. Treasury has a written understanding with the Fed that the SDRCs will be redeemed when ESF dollar holdings appear to be in excess of foreseeable requirements. Treasury does not pay interest on SDRCs.
The U.S. government used the fund to provide $20 billion in currency swaps and loan guarantees to Mexico following the 1994 economic crisis in Mexico. This was somewhat controversial at the time, because President Clinton had tried and failed to pass the Mexican Stabilization Act through Congress. Use of the ESF circumvented the need for approval of the legislative branch. In response, Congress passed and President Clinton signed the Mexican Debt Disclosure Act of 1995, which implicitly accepted the use of the ESF, but required reports to Congress every six months on the status of the loans. At the end of the crisis, the U.S. actually made a 500 million dollar profit on the loans.
On September 19, 2008, U.S. Treasury Department announced that up to $50 billion in the ESF would temporarily be made available to guarantee deposits in certain money market funds..
Some people believe the fund is used to suppress the price of gold in times of panic.