Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Fed Needs to Finish the Job - Part 2

Joseph Mason, an economist at Drexel Univerisity, discussed today why the Fed's Discount Rate cut is only a short term bandaid at best...............

Mr. Mason’s comments:

Let’s be direct. While markets may have been temporarily assuaged by Friday’s Discount Rate cut, the problem at the heart of current credit difficulties is over-leverage. Structured finance conduits (like subprime) are failing because they sold too much high-rated credit and not enough risky credit. That is, they over-leveraged. CDOs bought those over-leveraged structures and then leveraged the structures some more. Hedge funds bought the CDOs and then borrowed to buy more, leveraging themselves 10 or more times over in the process. Over-leverage is a condition of over-borrowing. While discount window lending to insolvent institutions as a broad based bailout policy was attempted in the Thrift Crisis and the Great Depression in the US, and many times elsewhere, it has never once meaningfully addressed industry-wide problems of over-leverage or help restore banks to solvency.

The point is, over-borrowing has not once been reconciled through more borrowing, whether through the discount window or elsewhere. Here are two relevant articles. One is the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis’
Homer Jones Memorial Lecture given by Anna Schwartz (Milton Friedman’s co-author on the Monetary History of the United States) in 1992, and one is authored by myself, published in 2001. Both show the frivolity of discount window lending in cases of industry-wide difficulties. Discount window policy will help the industry weather a few weeks of transitory market difficulties, but discount window policy is unlikely to help in the long term. Given the magnitude of interest rate resets increasing well into 2008, more meaningful policy geared toward providing transparency toward RMBS, CDO, Hedge Fund, and Mutual Fund holdings needs to be developed in the few weeks we have bought with the discount window policy. Financial panics tend to happen in the fall, and that time is soon upon us.

- From WSJ Real Time Economics Blog

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