Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Bernanke: Recession Possible

by Calculated Risk on 4/02/2008 09:46:00 AM

From Chairman Bernanke's testimony before the Joint Economic Committee:

Overall, the near-term economic outlook has weakened relative to the projections released by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) at the end of January. It now appears likely that real gross domestic product (GDP) will not grow much, if at all, over the first half of 2008 and could even contract slightly. ... However, in light of the recent turbulence in financial markets, the uncertainty attending this forecast is quite high and the risks remain to the downside.
Nothing really new in Bernanke's economic outlook, but historically when the Fed Chairman starts talking about the possibility of a recession, the economy is already in a recession.

And on Bear Stearns:
On March 13, Bear Stearns advised the Federal Reserve and other government agencies that its liquidity position had significantly deteriorated and that it would have to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy the next day unless alternative sources of funds became available. This news raised difficult questions of public policy. Normally, the market sorts out which companies survive and which fail, and that is as it should be. However, the issues raised here extended well beyond the fate of one company. Our financial system is extremely complex and interconnected, and Bear Stearns participated extensively in a range of critical markets. With financial conditions fragile, the sudden failure of Bear Stearns likely would have led to a chaotic unwinding of positions in those markets and could have severely shaken confidence. The company’s failure could also have cast doubt on the financial positions of some of Bear Stearns’ thousands of counterparties and perhaps of companies with similar businesses. Given the current exceptional pressures on the global economy and financial system, the damage caused by a default by Bear Stearns could have been severe and extremely difficult to contain. Moreover, the adverse effects would not have been confined to the financial system but would have been felt broadly in the real economy through its effects on asset values and credit availability. To prevent a disorderly failure of Bear Stearns and the unpredictable but likely severe consequences of such a failure for market functioning and the broader economy, the Federal Reserve, in close consultation with the Treasury Department, agreed to provide funding to Bear Stearns through JPMorgan Chase. Over the following weekend, JPMorgan Chase agreed to purchase Bear Stearns and assumed Bear’s financial obligations.
JPMorgan didn't assume all of Bear's financial obligations. The U.S. taxpayers are also at risk.

And Bernanke concludes:
Clearly, the U.S. economy is going through a very difficult period.