Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Fed and Other Central Banks Inject More Funds into Market

by Bill McBride on 12/12/2007 11:50:00 AM

From Greg Ip at the WSJ: Fed Joins Other Banks in Measures To Inject More Funds Into Markets

The Federal Reserve has joined with four other major central banks to announce a series of measures designed to inject added cash into global money markets in hopes of thawing a credit freeze that threatens their economies.

The Fed said today it would create a new "term auction facility" under which it would lend at least $40 billion and potentially far more, in four separate auctions starting this week. The loans would be at rates far below the rate charged on direct loans from the Fed to banks from its so-called "discount window." But the new loans can still be secured by the same, broad variety of collateral available that banks pledge for discount window loans.
The Fed also said it had created reciprocal "swap" lines with the European Central Bank, for $20 billion, and the Swiss National Bank, for $4 billion. These will enable the ECB and SNB to make dollar loans to banks in their jurisdiction, in hopes of putting downward pressure on interbank dollar rates in the offshore markets, principally the London Interbank Offered Rate, or Libor, market. The inability of foreign central banks to inject funds in anything other than their own currency has been a factor creating the squeeze on bank funding in those markets.
The new "term auction facility" overcomes the principal obstacles the Fed has faced using its two main tools for injecting liquidity. Open market operations can be used to inject cash at the federal funds rate, which is relatively cheap, but only against a limited range of collateral. The discount rate, on the other hand, is half a point higher than the federal funds rate and banks are reluctant to access it for fear of the stigma of being seen to be desperate for funds.

The new loans will be auctioned off with a minimum rate linked to the expected actual federal funds rate over the duration of the loan. Since the federal funds rate is expected to decline over the next two months, when the loans will be outstanding, the loan rate could end up being close to or even below the current federal funds rate.
So much for discouraging future risk taking. Here is what the BofE's Mervyn King said in September:
The path ahead is uncertain. There are strong private incentives to market players to recognise early and transparently their exposures to off-balance sheet entities and to accelerate the re-pricing of asset-backed securities. Policy actions must be supportive of this process. Injections of liquidity in normal money market operations against high quality collateral are unlikely by themselves to bring down the LIBOR spreads that reflect a need for banks collectively to finance the expansion of their balance sheets. To do that, general injections of liquidity against a wider range of collateral would be necessary. But unless they were made available at an appropriate penalty rate, they would encourage in future the very risk-taking that has led us to where we are. All central banks are aware that there are circumstances in which action might be necessary to prevent a major shock to the system as a whole. Balancing these considerations will pose considerable challenges, and in present circumstances judging that balance is something we do almost daily.

The key objectives remain, first, the continuous pursuit of the inflation target to maintain economic stability and, second, ensuring that the financial system continues to function effectively, including the proper pricing of risk. If risk continues to be under-priced, the next period of turmoil will be on an even bigger scale. The current turmoil, which has at its heart the earlier under-pricing of risk, has disturbed the unusual serenity of recent years, but, managed properly, it should not threaten our long-run economic stability.
emphasis added
The idea of lending “quickly, freely and readily” during a crisis, but at a penalty rate, and only on good collateral, comes from Walter Bagehot's 1873 “Lombard Street”.

UPDATE: Floyd Norris smells Fear at the Fed