Americans Have Been Bailing Out Foreign Banks for Years … And We’re Getting Ready To Do It Again
May 9, 2010
As the Wall Street Journal points out, the Federal Reserve might open up its “swap lines” again to bail out the Europeans:
The Fed is considering whether to reopen a lending program put in place during the financial crisis in which it shipped dollars overseas through foreign central banks like the European Central Bank, Swiss National Bank and Bank of England. The central banks, in turn, lent the dollars out to banks in their home countries in need of dollar funding. It was aimed at preventing further financial contagion.
The Fed has felt that it is premature to reopen this program — which was shut down in February as the financial crisis appeared to wane — because it wasn’t clear that foreign banks were in need of dollar funds. Still, trading floors on Wall Street are abuzz with anticipation today that the Fed might use the program again as Europe’s problems take on a more global dimension.
The international lending lines are known among central bankers as swaps.
Fed officials believe the swap program was one of its most successful interventions aimed at stemming a global crisis, when many banks overseas became strained for dollar funding. In their normal course of business, they borrowed dollars in short-term lending markets and used those dollars to finance holdings of long-term U.S. dollar assets, like Treasury or mortgage bonds. When those markets dried up, the swap lines helped to prevent overseas bank funding crises in 2008.
Fed officials see the swaps as a low-risk program, because its counterparties in these loans are foreign central banks, and not private banks. At a crescendo in the crisis in December 2008, the Fed had shipped $583 billion overseas in the form of these swaps.