Transcripts show Fed underestimated crisis in 2007

  • By Martin Crutsinger and Christopher S. Rugaber Associated Press
  • Friday, January 18, 2013 7:19pm
  • Herald Business Journal

WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve officials in 2007 underestimated the scope of the approaching financial crisis and how it would tip the U.S. economy into the worst recession since the Great Depression, transcripts of the Fed’s policy meetings that year show.

The meetings occurred as the country was on the brink of the worst financial crisis since the 1930s. As the year went on, Fed officials shifted their focus away from the risk of inflation as they slowly began to recognize the severity of the crisis.

During 2007, the Fed began to cut interest rates and took extraordinary steps to ease credit and shore up confidence in the banking system. Throughout the year, the housing crisis deepened. Banks and hedge funds that had invested big in subprime mortgages were left with worthless assets as foreclosures rose. The damage reached the top echelons of Wall Street.

At the Fed’s Oct. 30 policy meeting, Janet Yellen, then-president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, said the economy faced increased risks. But she hardly predicted anything dire.

“I think the most likely outcome is that the economy will move forward toward a soft landing,” she said.

By December, the economy had plunged into the recession, which would last until June 2009. Five years later, the economy has yet to fully recover.

The Fed did take action in 2007, although investors seemed to think it waited too long. Markets were disappointed when the Fed refused to cut interest rate cuts at its Aug. 7 meeting. After the meeting, the Fed issued a statement declaring that the threats to growth had only “increased somewhat.”

At the meeting, various Fed officials signaled their belief that the biggest threat facing the economy was inflation — not slower growth, the transcripts show.

Days later, BNP Paribas, France’s largest bank, announced that it was suspending withdrawals from three investment funds, a move that jolted financial markets around the world.

On Aug. 10, the Fed held the first of three emergency conference calls to discuss the emerging crisis. The committee announced that it would pump billions of dollars into financial markets to try and calm turmoil on Wall Street and ease the tightening of credit.

One week later, the Fed called an emergency meeting to cut the discount rate on loans to banks.

Then in September, the Fed cut its key short-term interest rate for the first time since June 25, 2003. The Fed would cut the rate two more times in 2007 as the financial crisis worsened.

Still, the transcripts showed the central bank struggled through the year to develop a clear sense of how serious the unfolding crisis could be and what harm it might do to the U.S. economy.

At the Fed’s final meeting of that year in December, the central bank’s staff presented an economic forecast for 2008 that proved to be overly optimistic.

And despite concerns about the lending market and the quality of loans — particularly in real estate — Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke predicted that no major bank would fail.

“The result of this is that, although I do not expect insolvency or near insolvency among major financial institutions, they are certainly going to become more cautious.”

In March 2008, investment banking giant Bear Stearns was rescued with the help of Fed support. In the fall, mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were taken over by the government and the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 set off a full-blown financial panic.


Associated Press

More in Herald Business Journal

Boeing CEO Muilenburg’s total compensation rose to $18.5M

That’s up from just over $15 million a year earlier. It includes the value of stock awards in 2017.

Mother-in-law homes popular after cities ease restrictions

Lynnwood and Everett are seeing a spurt of growth after changing city codes to allow for this development.

Rising household debt casts shade on sunny economy

Real estate and the stock market are vulnerable to bubbles, while debt requires monthly payments.

Facebook data whistleblower: ‘Fake news to the next level’

Cambridge Analytica used created an information cocoon to change their perceptions, he says.

3 must-try doughnuts when Top Pot opens in Edmonds

After two years of work, the popular Seattle chain is opening its second Snohomish County location.

Boeing’s newest 737 Max makes first flight over Seattle

Prospects for the new aircraft — the Max 7 — are hazy, as low-cost carriers migrated to larger models.

Boeing’s an early casualty as investors dig in for trade war

The company’s share price is headed toward its biggest weekly slump in more than two years.

Superstore chain Fred Meyer to stop selling guns, ammunition

Guns have been sold at nearly 45 of more than 130 stores in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska.

Facebook bans Trump-affiliated data firm Cambridge Analytica

The company allegedly held onto improperly obtained user data after claiming to have deleted it.

Most Read