Sept. 18 (Bloomberg) — The Federal Reserve almost quadrupled the amount of dollars central banks can auction around the world to $247 billion in a coordinated bid to ease the worst crisis facing financial markets since the 1920s.
The Fed increased the amount of dollars that the European Central Bank, the Bank of Japan and other counterparts can offer from $67 billion “to address the continued elevated pressures in U.S. dollar short-term funding markets.” The Bank of England, the Bank of Canada and the Swiss National Bank also participated.
Policy makers have struggled to revive confidence in markets this week as investors stockpiled money on concern more financial institutions would fail after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and the U.S. government bailout of American International Group Inc. The cost to hedge against losses on U.S. government debt climbed to a record yesterday.
“There’s a complete lack of faith in the markets,” said Jim O’Neill, chief economist at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in London. “There’s a lot of cash hoarding and people losing trust in banks, so the central banks are acting to relieve that. This might not be the last time they have to act.”
Markets welcomed the announcement, which was made in statements from each central bank at 9 a.m. Frankfurt time at the start of European trading. The cost of borrowing dollars overnight slid to 3.84 percent from 5.03 percent yesterday. It was 2.15 percent last week and reached the highest since 2001 on Sept. 15.
The Fed, which is adding $50 billion into its own banking system today, will spray dollars around the world via swap lines with other central banks. They can then auction them in their own markets. The ECB, Bank of England and Swiss National Bank allotted a total of $64 billion for one day today.
“The timing, so early in the trading day, shows both the severity of the strains in the interbank market and as well the authorities’ determination to resuscitate orderly functioning of the money markets,” said Julian Callow, head of European economics at Barclays Capital in London.
Under the new arrangements, the ECB doubled the limit of dollars it can get from the Fed to $110 billion and Switzerland’s central bank can offer $27 billion, an extra $15 billion. New swap facilities with the Bank of Japan, the Bank of England and the Bank of Canada amount to $60 billion, $40 billion and $10 billion, respectively. The arrangements are authorized until Jan. 30.
Use as Necessary
The ECB said it would offer $40 billion “for as long as needed” in overnight funds to the region’s banks. It will also increase by $5 billion the amount it lends for 28 days and 84 days to $25 billion and $15 billion. The Swiss National Bank will boost its 28-day auctions to $8 billion and the 84-day offering to $9 billion. Both were previously $6 billion.
The Bank of Canada said it has decided not to draw on its $10 billion swap facility at this time. The Bank of Japan, whose policy board held an emergency meeting today, said it will use its $60 billion as required by market conditions.
In auctions of their own currencies, the ECB today lent 25 billion euros in one-day money and the Bank of England 66.2 billion pounds in one-week loans.
The joint action is the latest attempt by central bankers to avert the financial crisis which deepened this week after Lehman and AIG tumbled and Merrill Lynch & Co. was sold. The crisis began over a year ago after the U.S. housing market imploded and has pushed the world economy to the brink of recession.
As markets seized up this week, central bankers pushed more than $200 billion into markets with those in Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Australia doing so again today.
Wall Street’s woes have gone global, forcing the U.K. government to sponsor a rescue of mortgage lender HBOS Plc and Russia to pour money into its banks. Russia’s government said today it would invest in the country’s stock market when it reopens tomorrow. The official Xinhua News Agency said China will buy equity stakes in state-owned banks to stabilize its market.
Swap lines were first established in December when officials joined forces to boost dollar liquidity around the world after interest-rate reductions in the U.S., the U.K. and Canada failed to ease concerns about bank lending. The Fed increased its link with the ECB in July.
The announcement today boosted European shares and U.S. futures, which have been pummeled this week as contagion spread through financial markets. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index futures expiring in December added 15, or 1.3 percent, to 1,177.9 as of 11:22 a.m. in London. More than $19 trillion has been wiped off the value of global stock markets since Oct. 31.
More May Be Needed
Failure to calm markets will see central banks inject even more cash, said Robert Barrie, an economist at Credit Suisse Group in London. Other options central banks could take include accepting greater collateral denominated in foreign currencies and increasing lending to banks abroad.
“The lack of dollars has been making the financial crisis worse around the world, which is why we now have this coordinated response,” Barrie said.
Since the credit squeeze began in August 2007, central banks have sought to keep apart the need to soothe markets and to combat inflation. They argue that interest rates are a blunt tool for helping markets and that price pressures prevent them from cutting rates. While the Fed slashed its key lending rate to 2 percent, the central bank has left it there since April. The Bank of Japan kept its key rate at 0.5 percent this week and the European Central Bank increased its benchmark to a seven-year high in July.
If the spasms in the markets continue and threaten to derail growth central bankers may shift, although for now they will want to wait, said Kevin Gaynor, head of economics at Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc in London.
“Partly this is to keep powder dry and partly because cutting interest rates won’t make much difference,” he said.
Last Updated: September 18, 2008 08:32 EDT
By John Fraher and Simon Kennedy