Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Round 2 Of the Credit Crisis

I say round 2 because this is the first step of a coordinated effort by all the central banks in the world (or at least the really big ones) to make a coordinated effort to stave off the credit crisis. Why the coordinated effort? Because the problems are now worldwide. Consider the following news from last week:

Fortis nationalized:

The governments of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg took partial control late Sunday of struggling bank Fortis NV, while Britain seized control of mortgage lender Bradford & Bingley early Monday.

Germany injects 50 billion euros into Hypo Real Estate:

The German government and the country's banks and insurers agreed on a 50 billion euro ($68 billion) rescue package for commercial property lender Hypo Real Estate Holding AG after an earlier bailout faltered.

Germany's financial industry agreed to double a credit line for Hypo Real Estate to 30 billion euros, Torsten Albig, a spokesman for Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck, said late yesterday in an e-mailed statement. The federal government's guarantee for the credit line remains unchanged, Albig said.

The government and the Bundesbank have said that Hypo Real Estate, Germany's second-biggest property lender, is too big to fail. They met with banks and insurers in Berlin all day yesterday to discuss a revamped rescue package after private banks on Saturday withdrew their support for a 35 billion-euro rescue package brokered a week ago.

The Fed and ECB doubled their credit lines:

Additionally, the European Central Bank joined with the U.S. Federal Reserve in doubling the credit swap line that makes dollars available to cash-hungry banks from US$120 billion to $240 billion. The Bank of England doubled dollar availability to US$80 billion, while other central banks offered smaller amounts.

Yesterday, the Fed announced it would now start lending to private companies:

The Federal Reserve Board on Tuesday announced the creation of the Commercial Paper Funding Facility (CPFF), a facility that will complement the Federal Reserve's existing credit facilities to help provide liquidity to term funding markets. The CPFF will provide a liquidity backstop to U.S. issuers of commercial paper through a special purpose vehicle (SPV) that will purchase three-month unsecured and asset-backed commercial paper directly from eligible issuers. The Federal Reserve will provide financing to the SPV under the CPFF and will be secured by all of the assets of the SPV and, in the case of commercial paper that is not asset-backed commercial paper, by the retention of up-front fees paid by the issuers or by other forms of security acceptable to the Federal Reserve in consultation with market participants. The Treasury believes this facility is necessary to prevent substantial disruptions to the financial markets and the economy and will make a special deposit at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in support of this facility.

And today Britain announced a very bold plan:

Britain's banks will get an unprecedented 50 billion-pound ($87 billion) government lifeline and emergency loans from the central bank after the freeze in credit markets threatened to bring down the financial system.

The government will offer to buy preference shares from Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, Barclays Plc and at least six other banks, and provide about 250 billion pounds of loan guarantees to refinance debt, the Treasury said in a statement today. The Bank of England will make at least 200 billion pounds available. The plan doesn't specify how much each bank will get.

The emergency action came after the FTSE 350 Banks Index fell almost 20 percent in the past month. Prime Minister Gordon Brown is following U.S. President George W. Bush, who approved a plan last week to spend $700 billion to prop up financial institutions with untested measures as equities plunged around the world.

``The global market has ceased to function,'' Brown said today at a press conference in London. ``The banking system must be sounder, and that is why we are putting the capital in.''

None of these plans/efforts is doing what it is supposed to do: calm the markets and bring a sense of confidence back to the market. The bottom line is clear: despite all of these efforts, the short-term lending markets have completely frozen because no one trusts anyone's officially stated balance sheet numbers regarding what they are worth. This is called "counter-party risk." It simply means that lenders are so concerned about a borrowers solvency even in the short-term that no one is making even the shortest loan.

We've seen a lot of one-sided action. But now the central banks are doing things together:

Joint Statement by Central Banks

Throughout the current financial crisis, central banks have engaged in continuous close consultation and have cooperated in unprecedented joint actions such as the provision of liquidity to reduce strains in financial markets.

Inflationary pressures have started to moderate in a number of countries, partly reflecting a marked decline in energy and other commodity prices. Inflation expectations are diminishing and remain anchored to price stability. The recent intensification of the financial crisis has augmented the downside risks to growth and thus has diminished further the upside risks to price stability.

Some easing of global monetary conditions is therefore warranted. Accordingly, the Bank of Canada, the Bank of England, the European Central Bank, the Federal Reserve, Sveriges Riksbank, and the Swiss National Bank are today announcing reductions in policy interest rates. The Bank of Japan expresses its strong support of these policy actions.

The Federal Open Market Committee has decided to lower its target for the federal funds rate 50 basis points to 1-1/2 percent. The Committee took this action in light of evidence pointing to a weakening of economic activity and a reduction in inflationary pressures.

From the US perspective this is largely symbolic. US Interest rates are already 0% ofter adjusting for inflation. However, this is important for the European Central Bank, as Trichet has been very hawkish on inflation until very recently.

I say round 2 because there are now a number of coordinated policy measures various central banks could take together. For example, The ECB could create its own bail-out fund to match the US' and then coordinate the two funds actions to really start helping the battered institutions.

Either way I do think this is good news because the big policy makers realized one very important thing: we're in this thing together now.