Countries Move to Stimulate Economy

Trying to stop a meltdown in global markets, the Federal Reserve along with the Bank of Canada, the Bank of England, the European Central Bank, Sveriges Riksbank, and the Swiss National Bank announced a coordinated reduction in interest rates.

The Fed dropped its key federal funds rate from 2% - which it has held there for some time – by 0.5% percent. The Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke as much as telegraphed this cut could happen – though perhaps not THIS soon – yesterday when he spoke in Washington and said US "economic growth has worsened."

Investors and market analysts around the globe have talked about the need for greater coordination among central banks to combat what has now become a global problem.

European stocks are bouncing from lows after the news. US futures are up as well.

The United States, Spain and Australia took action Tuesday also aimed at stimulating the slowing world economy.

In Washington, the Federal Reserve announced it was starting an ambitious program to buy up to $99 billion worth of unsecured short-term debt, using a little known federal instrument that dates to the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The so-called commercial paper market is the method many businesses rely on to fund day-to-day operations.

The Fed announced in a statement that the creation of the Commercial Paper Funding Facility, which will complement the Federal Reserve's existing credit methods of providing liquidity to term-funding markets.

In Madrid, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced Tuesday that Spain is setting aside up to $41 billion to help the financial sector, and said the government would also increase the deposit insurance for citizens to $136 billion per account, a twofold increase.

Australia took action too, announcing it was lowering its key interest rate from 7 percent to 6 percent, the biggest reduction in more than seven years.

In a statement announcing the cut, the governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia attributed the bank's decision in part to the "the recent deterioration in prospects for global growth, together with much more difficult market conditions even for credit-worthy borrowers."

While the various actions helped shore up the markets, they fall short of a more coordinated interest rate intervention that some have called for.

The United States has already taken an aggressive approach on the interest rate front, with the Federal Reserve and its Chairman Ben Bernanke cutting its key interest rate from 5.25 percent in September 2007 to 2 percent now.

Other nations have not been as keen to lower their rates. But until now, their economies have weathered the financial crisis better than the United States.

The European Central Bank has held its key short-term rate steady at 4.25 percent. Its last decision to leave the rate unchanged came Oct. 2 at its regular monthly meeting.

Other banks also have rates higher than the United States. The Bank of England is currently at 5 percent and the Bank of Canada is at 3 percent.

Lower interest rates are generally a stimulus for the economy because they make the cost of capital cheaper, encouraging businesses to expand and invest. However, in the current financial crisis, interest rates have not been the issue -- no one is willing to lend due to a lack of confidence that they will be repaid.

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