Daily Archives: October 7, 2008

by Peter Boone and Simon Johnson

The US government has moved dramatically, in what it argues is a comprehensive manner, to counteract serious problems in the financial system, and to reduce the risk of a serious recession or worse.  Eurozone policymakers are far more reluctant to intervene.  They remain inclined to handle growing bank failures on a case-by-case basis; and, while their central banks have provided liquidity, they have avoided using other fiscal and monetary policy tools.  If the fortunes of the world economy depended only on the US policy response, we would predict just a fairly severe recession.  The absence of any indication that there will soon be a decisive European policy response suggests we could be in for something considerably worse.

In the view that is increasingly prevalent in the US, we are not facing a Keynesian demand recession, nor the supply side shocks of the 1970s. It is a crisis of confidence very similar to the Asian crisis of 1997-98.  The lesson from these events is when trust in highly leveraged financial markets weakens, there can be long and enduring repercussions across all sectors of the economy. The Federal Reserve’s implicit policy model since September 2007 appears to be tied in part to those events.

In contrast, the frame of reference for European authorities appears to be drawn from the lessons of the 1970s.  They are concerned about inflation and second round effects from past commodity price rises, so they keep interest rates higher.  They have not announced national programmes to bail out financial institutions and borrowers, in part, because of perceived costs relating to future moral hazard. Read more

by Raghuram Rajan

Financial markets are in panic. Central banks are willing to lend against all manner of collateral. Yet inter-bank credit markets are freezing up. Why? Have central banks contributed to the problem? And what do we do now?

The root of the problem, of course, lies in one class of assets, mortgage backed securities, rising in complexity as a result of defaults on the underlying housing mortgages, and falling in liquidity and value. Banks found they could no longer pledge these assets as collateral against borrowing. A bank now had two problems.

One was an immediate liquidity problem. It had to find a way to finance the mortgage backed securities that were previously financed with debt. The second was a capital problem. Because the market value of its assets had fallen, it was very thinly capitalized on a market value basis. But this problem could be handled later.

This, in a sense, was the Bear Sterns situation – illiquidity rather than insolvency. Central banks reacted by expanding the range of entities they would lend to and the range of assets they would accept as collateral. This immediately alleviated the liquidity problem, as banks borrowed pledging illiquid assets at the central bank. Read more