Make us your home page
Instagram

Records show Fed was slow to recognize seriousness of downturn

Transcripts from meetings of Federal Reserve officials, including Chairman Ben Bernanke, in 2007 show that they were slow to recognize the scope of the economic downturn unfolding.

Associated Press

Transcripts from meetings of Federal Reserve officials, including Chairman Ben Bernanke, in 2007 show that they were slow to recognize the scope of the economic downturn unfolding.

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.

Chairman Ben Bernanke noted that housing was "very weak" and manufacturing was slowing.

"But except for those sectors, there is a good bit of momentum in the economy," he said. Bernanke did acknowledge that there was "an unusual amount of uncertainty" surrounding the Fed's economic forecasts.

"In the aggregate data, there is yet no clear sign of a spillover from housing," Bernanke said in summing up the views of the committee.

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.

Markets were disappointed when the Fed refused to cut interest rate cuts at its Aug. 7, 2007, 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 to 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 — 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," he said.

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.

Records show Fed was slow to recognize seriousness of downturn 01/18/13 [Last modified: Friday, January 18, 2013 10:31pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Associated Press.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. CBO analysis: 23 million would lose health coverage under House-passed bill

    National

    WASHINGTON — The Republican health care bill that passed the House earlier this month would nearly double the number of Americans without health insurance over the next decade, according to a new analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

    Demonstrators protests the passage of a House Republican health care bill, outside the the Capitol in Washington, on May 4. The House took the unusual step of voting on the American Health Care Act before the Congressional Budget Office could assess it. That analysis was released Thursday and it showed the bill would cause 23 million fewer people to have health insurance by 2026. Many additional consumers would see skimpier health coverage and higher deductibles, the budget office projected.
  2. Florida Specialty Insurance acquires Pinellas Park's Mount Beacon Insurance

    Banking

    Tens of thousands of homeowners who were pushed out of Citizens Property Insurance for a private carrier since 2014 are finding themselves changing insurance companies yet again.

  3. Marijuana extract Epidiolex helps some kids with epilepsy, study shows

    Health

    A medicine made from marijuana, without the stuff that gives a high, cut seizures in kids with a severe form of epilepsy in a study that strengthens the case for more research into pot's possible health benefits.

    An employee checks a plant at LeafLine Labs, a medical marijuana production facility in Cottage Grove, Minn. [Associated Press (2015)]
  4. St. Pete Economic Development Corporation lures marketing firm MXTR to town

    Economic Development

    St. Petersburg Economic Development Corporation has lured its first big catch to St. Petersburg — MXTR Automation. The digital marketing company announced Wednesday that it will fill 20 "high-wage" creative positions within the next 18 months, as well as open an office in downtown St. Petersburg this year.

  5. United Airlines CEO to investors: We'll be more focused on customers

    Airlines

    CHICAGO — The CEO of United Airlines assured shareholders Wednesday that the company is doing all it can to be more customer-friendly since video surfaced of a passenger being violently ejected from a plane last month.

    Chicago Police arrest protesters after they sat down in a busy street blocking traffic outside a United Airlines shareholders meeting Wednesday, in downtown Chicago. The people who were arrested were protesting the low pay of employees of companies that provide meals and other services for United Airlines at Chicago's O'Hare Airport.
[Associated Press]