Central Banks Cut Rates in Defense Against Financial Crisis

In a coordinated counterattack on a looming global financial meltdown, central banks in the U.S. and across the world cut their key lending rates today. The Federal Reserve slashed its rate from 2 percent to 1.5 percent, and the Bank of England similarly cut its rate by 50 basis points, to 4.5 percent. Other institutions cutting their rates included the European Central Bank and the central banks of Canada, Sweden, Switzerland and China. The Fed’s participation suggested urgency, since it was taken in advance of the agency’s next scheduled meeting, on Oct. 28. The Fed had not cut its rate since April. In addition, the Fed reduced its emergency “discount” lending rate to banks by 50 basis points, to 1.75 percent. Under the current crisis, bank borrowing from the Fed’s discount window has been increasing. Also in unison were the responses from the White House and the two presidential candidates, all of whom promptly supported the Fed’s action. At least initially, however, the world’s stock markets were not buoyed by the action.  Shortly before the joint rate cut, the International Monetary Fund released a report predicting that the U.S. and the world economies will continue to slide this year and next, with the U.S. probably heading into a recession. The IMF report did not mince words: “The world economy is now entering a major downturn in the face of the most dangerous shock in mature financial markets since the 1930s.” According to IMF projections, the global economy will grow at 3.9 percent this year, down substantially from 5 percent last year, and at just 3 percent next year. The IMF generally considers worldwide economic growth of 3 percent or less the equivalent of a recession. Also today, Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Christopher Cox urged Congress to act promptly to regulate the $55 trillion market in credit default swaps. Although the CDS market was intended to help financial services companies manage risk, it hasn’t necessarily worked out that way, and the over-the-counter market has been blamed for exacerbating the financial crisis, including the collapse of mega-insurer AIG. Last June, Cox established the 21st Century Disclosure Initiative, a “wide-ranging internal effort to fundamentally rethink financial disclosure.” By the end of this year, the program is to publish a report describing a modernized disclosure system and recommending actions that the SEC can take to transition to it.