Sun, Aug 12, 2007 - Page 11 News List

ANALYSIS: How will Fed tackle financial crisis?

GUIDANCE The Federal Reserve has a range of tools to manage financial institutions' problems, including its most powerful weapon


Facing a major test, the Federal Reserve pumped billions of dollars into the US financial system after a global credit crunch sent Wall Street into a dive and shriveled the nest eggs of investors large and small.

Will it be enough or will Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and his central bank colleagues have to dig deeper into their arsenal?

The Fed's action may have eased some investors' anxieties. The Dow Jones industrial average was down again Friday, but only a little -- 31 points -- by the end of a seesaw day.

The Federal Reserve has a range of tools to keep financial institutions' problems from morphing into a broader economic crisis. It can also use the power of words to try to calm investors.

So far, the Fed has chosen a little of both.

It ordered extra cash to be plowed into the system, hoping to help banks and other institutions get over the hump and carry out their business more smoothly.

The Fed also sought to send a reassuring message to Wall Street and Main Street that it is on top of an unsettling situation, pledging to provide "reserves as necessary" to help the markets safely make their way.

Bernanke and his colleagues had to walk a fine line to acknowledge a problem, discuss some relief but not say anything that might spook investors further.

"If they were to say it is a really big crisis and they are really concerned it could translate into an economic crisis, it would have the reverse effect on investors and send them into a bigger panic," said Victor Li, economics professor Villanova School of Business.

The Fed cannot ignore the market's pain. At the same time, it must be mindful of doing what is best for the economy in the long run.

The Fed, in a meeting on Tuesday, acknowledged that Wall Street turbulence, credit problems and a nationwide housing slump pose increasing threats to the economy. But it refrained from cutting rates and stuck to a forecast that the economy will weather the financial storm and grow gradually in coming months.

"It seems like Bernanke might be more willing than [former chairman] Alan Greenspan to let financial stress play out to ensure investors don't feel emboldened in the future and take on more risk. There is a sense that Bernanke buys into that argument more than Greenspan did," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's

"We'll see if that is true in the next week or so. If markets remain unstable, it will be a test to see how closely the Bernanke Fed sticks to the Greenspan cookbook."

To make sure there's adequate money available, the Federal Reserve pushed US$38 billion in temporary reserves into the system on Friday -- the biggest injection since the days following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. On Thursday, the Fed had put US$24 billion into the system.

Banks were also told that the Fed's discount window -- where they can turn in an emergency for short-term loans -- is available as a source of funding. After the 2001 terror attacks, the Fed used the discount window to extend billions of dollars worth of emergency loans to keep the financial system functioning.

Besides injecting cash into the financial system as it did on Thursday and Friday, the Fed could lower the discount rate on loans to banks. That would encourage increased lending to people and businesses. The Fed has done this before in times of economic or financial crisis.

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