New Fed steps to ease financial crisis

Updated: 2008-03-17 09:10

WASHINGTON -- The Federal Reserve announced a series of new steps Sunday to help provide relief to a spreading credit crisis that threatens to plunge the economy into recession.

The central bank approved a cut to its lending rate to financial institutions to 3.25 percent from 3.50 percent, effective immediately, and created another lending facility for big investment banks to secure short-term loans.

A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange March 14, 2008. [Agencies]

The steps are "designed to bolster market liquidity and promote orderly market functioning," the Fed said in a statement. "Liquid well-functioning markets are essential for the promotion of economic growth."

The new lending facility will be available to financial institutions on Monday.

It will be in place for at least six months and "may be extended as conditions warrant," the Fed said. The interest rate will be 3.25 percent and a range of collateral will be accepted to back the loans.

The Fed also approved the financing arrangement announced Sunday in which JPMorgan Chase & Co. will acquire rival Bear Stearns Cos. The deal valued at $236.2 million (euro151.79 million), a stunning collapse for one of the world's largest and most venerable investment banks. The Fed will provide special financing to JPMorgan Chase for the deal, JPMorgan Chase said. The central bank has agreed to fund up to $30 billion (euro19.28 billion) of Bear Stearns' less liquid assets.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said he was pleased by Sunday's developments.

"Last Friday, I said that market participants are addressing challenges and I am pleased with recent developments. I appreciate the additional actions taken this evening by the Federal Reserve to enhance the stability, liquidity and orderliness of our markets," he said.

The Fed's actions are the latest in a recent string of unconventional steps to deal with a worsening credit crisis that has unhinged Wall Street. And, the action comes just two days before the central bank's scheduled meeting on Tuesday, where another big cut to a key interest rate that affects millions of people and businesses is expected to be ordered.

The "discount" rate cut announced Sunday covers only short-term loans that financial institutions get directly from the Federal Reserve.

Even with the Fed's aggressive moves, economic and financial conditions keep deteriorating.

The Fed in recent days has taken extraordinary steps to help banks and Wall Street investment firms survive the stresses of the credit crisis. Financial institutions have racked up multibillion-dollar losses when mortgage-backed investments soured with the collapse of the housing market.

The Fed this past week also said it would pour as much as $200 billion (euro128.53 billion) into big Wall Street banks and investment houses and allow them to put up risky home-loan packages as collateral. This maneuver was intended to bring sorely needed relief in the market for mortgage securities. The Fed also has offered as much as $200 billion (euro128.53 billion) in short-term loans to banks and large financial institutions.

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