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Causes And Policy Responses Of The Financial Crisis Finance Essay

Objectively, this chapter will examine the multi-dimensional causes, policy responses and the consequences of the crisis. The first part of this chapter will provide a deep insight on the roots of the subprime crisis which eventually trigged the most brutal financial distress the global economy encountered since the history of the great depression, Bernanke (2009b). In the second part, the policy responses of Central Banks and the consequences of the crisis will be thoroughly discussed.

PART I: THE MULTIDEMENSIONAL ROOTS OF THE FINANCIAL CRISIS

MACROECONOMIC IMBALANCE AND THE GLOBAL LIQUIDITY BUBBLE

From a global international perspective, the role of macroeconomic imbalances is a culminant starting point for a good understanding of factors which led to the financial cataclysm in 07/08. Macroeconomic imbalances grew rapidly over the past 10 years. While emerging economies in Asia, particularly China and Japan, and Oil producing countries accumulated current account surpluses, contrary, the UK, the US and industrial economies in Western Europe recorded colossal current account deficits, Turner (2009), see: [Appendix1]. In surplus economies, savings exceeded domestic investment opportunities, engendering massive capital movements towards deficit economies. For example, according to Bernanke (2009c), macroeconomic statistics indicated that the United States became recipient of huge foreign savings approximately summed up to $825 billion between 1995 and 2006. Many Asian Central Banks had strong appetite for fixed income investments and accumulated their surplus funds in longer-term U.S. Treasury Bonds, resulting in very low interest rates across a relatively flat yield curve between 2001 and 2004, Calomiris, Allen and Carleti (2009). Eventually, these capital inflows movements created a macroeconomic environment with excess liquidity that has helped to fuel credit expansion, particularly the housing boom in the United States, Jacques de Larosière (2009). Chart 1 clear shows trends of global macroeconomic imbalances from 1993 to 2007, with significant debt accumulation in the United States, Turner (2009)

Chart 1: Macro-economic Imbalances

MACRO-POLICIES FAILURES: MONETARY POLICY “TOO LOOSE”

Subsequent to the bursting of the High-Tech bubble in 2000, Central Banks around the globe have considerably eased monetary policy by cutting down interest rates at historical low level (0 % in Japan and 1% in the US between 2002 and 2003) to boost demand and facilitate rapid recovery from the recession. Atkinson, Blundell-Wignall, and Lee (2008a, p.2) argued that macro policies such as fixed exchange rate in China and central banks’ excessive quantitative easing helped fuel the global liquidity bubble which in turn “got the asset bubbles and excess leverage under way” during the housing bubble. Henderson and Hummel (2008) and Steve Hanke (2008) underlined two fundamental reasons to explain the Fed’s excessive expansionary monetary policy (often referred to as Greenspan’s bubbles) for the 19 years period Allan Greenspan headed the Fed, See Chart 2. The first one is the “Greenspan’s Doctrine” that “the Fed could do nothing to stop asset bubbles from occurring, but would stand by to cushion the fall if they did occur” Dowd (2009, P.156); this unquestionably created an enormous moral hazard risk that encouraged financial institutions in their battle for yield uplift by given them the incentive to take more risk than they could actually bear in anticipation of government bailouts in the event of a downturn in the future. The second reason was Bernanke’s fear that tightening monetary policy in the midst of the 2001 recession would create a deflation risk that could eventually worsened the crisis. For Steve Hanke (2008), both the “false deflation scare” of Ben Bernanke and the Greenspan’s doctrine were the “mother of all liquidity cycles and yet another massive demand bubble” that compounded the housing boom, Dowd (2009, p.157).

Chart 2: Monetary Base (in Bn $)

Source: Henderson and Hummel (2008, p4.)

Critical Analysis: “Loose Fitting Monetary Policy” and the Housing Bubble

For Chorafas (2009), central banks simply lost control of monetary policy, allowing the housing bubble to fully develop. Taylor (2008) provides substantial empirical evidence that “Loose Fitting monetary policy” had significantly augmented the magnitude of the house boom, increasing the probability of a systemic burst. Figure 1 illustrates the deviation of Fed’s actual interest policies from what it should have been if the Taylor Rule was applied. This clearly pictures monetary excesses form 2002 to 2004. Based on the Taylor rule, the Fed should have started contracting monetary policy and increasing interest rate since 2002, inside of prolonging its quantitative easing till 2004. According to Taylor, tightening interest rates in 2002 would have helped contain the housing bubble from its initial stage in 2002, and probably prevent the occurrence of a burst as we witnessed in 2007.

Fig1: Loose Fitting Monetary Policy Fig 2: Taylor (2008) Empirical Approach

To provide a solid empirical backing to his argument, Taylor performed complex regression analyses modeling the relationship between housing starts and interest rate trends, and through using simulation techniques he investigated what would have been the outcomes in the counterfactual event that the Taylor rule was applied (see figure 2). The results of his empirical work stood as firm proof that monetary excesses “was a key cause of the boom and hence the bust and the crisis” Taylor (2008, p.2).

NEXUS BETEWEEN FINANCIAL INNOVATION AND THE HOUSING BUBBLE

Financial innovations played a key role in crisis. Low interest rate and abundant iniquity stimulated the financial institutions’ demand for yield up lifts through extensive used of complex and highly leveraged securitization methods, Allen and Carletti (2009). Traditionally, as typical financial intermediaries, Banks would mobilize deposits, and grant out credit to sound borrowers after concise screen process. The traditional approach encouraged due diligence; the bank finances the loans itself and has the incentive to check the creditworthiness of borrowers to minimized the risk of default and maintain the overall quality of its loan portfolio. However, in the United State for example, Government misguided intervention in housing market with the creation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac respectively 1938 and 1970, to promote affordable mortgage finance. Both of these federal government sponsored agencies had implicit government support and were favored with the flexibility to hold lower capital requirement, thus higher leveraging of capital. These privileges consolidated their dominant position in the mortgage Market in which they played a crucial in the expansion securitized mortgage credits over the second half of last century.

In the new model securitized credit often referred to as the “originate distribute model”, banks did not finance the loans themselves. In this new business model, financial institutions originate and pool together a diversified portfolio of mortgage loans in the form of Asset Back Securities (ABS) which are then turned into bonds known as Collateral Debt Obligations (CDOs), trenched and sold to investors through structured investment vehicles (SIVs) to raise finance.

Unfortunately, this credit expansion through securitization declined credit underwriting standards and faulty remuneration system within financial institution ruined risk management and corporate governance. Dowd(2009, p.143) argued that the securitized credit model enable Banks to establish a “Giant Ponzi Scheme” in the midst of the housing bubble by allowing financial institutions to excessively leverage their capital by rolling on pyramids of short term debts through SIV to increase mortgage finance and profit. Tight completion between American investments banks such as Bear stern, Citi Group and Government Sponsored Agencies (GSA) also played a key role in boosted cheap credit delivery. Trends in Macroeconomic imbalances and liquidity boom coupled with the increasing complexity of financial innovations and securitization techniques to inevitably fuel the housing boon, see: Chart 3&4.

Chart 3: Asset Backed securities Chart 4: Real house prices, 2000-09

Source: OECD, Datastream

EARTH QUATE IN MORTGAGE MARKETS AND THE FINANCIAL CRISIS

The Feds responded to inflation pressures in the housing market by to raising interest rate from 1% to 5.25% between 2005 and 2006. This decision to contract the monetary policy led triggered the eruption of delinquencies in the US mortgage markets and marked the beginning of the down turn. Many low income mortgage holders could not afford to pay back their debt obligations and financial institutions highly exposes of securitized products begun to suffer huge losses as result of high mortgage default rate. House price continue to follow a downwards trend, leading to collapse of structured financial product, particularly the crash of CDOs and CDSs markets. The bursting of the housing boom caused financial institutions billions of losses and write-downs that eventually depleted their capital and weakened the balance sheet congested with “complex credit products and other illiquid assets of uncertain value” Bernanke (2009b). Table 1 provides detailed information on large banks’ losses between 2007 and 2008.

Globalization and financial innovations (notably CDOs, and networks of CDS) not only strengthened financial linkages but also facilitated the spread of credit risk during the financial turmoil. In the US for example, the subprime meltdown affected so called TBTF or TITF financial institutions such as AIG, Citi, Bearn Stern, and more importantly Lehman Brothers were connected to many other counterparts across the globe. As a result the US subprime crisis engendered chains of contagious and systemic financial shocks that rapidly took an international dimension. September 15, 2008, was indeed a memorial day in the history of the financial turmoil. The bankruptcy of Lehman amplified the magnitude of financial distress and broke down investors’ confidence. The abrupt fear of counterparty risk has frozen liquidity on the international inter-bank market as banks stopped lending to each other. This was probably the most brutal financial chock that led the financial system to “a complete reversal of situation: “from a global liquidity bubble towards a severe liquidity crisis” Aloko (2010, p.4).

EVALUATION OF POLICY RESPONSES

The Federal Reserve immediately and promptly responded to the crisis since its eruption in 2007. The Federal Open Market Committee FOMC first responded by significantly expanding monetary policy and cutting down the federal funds rate from 50 basis points to 325 basis points between autumn 2007 and spring 2008. These policy actions reduce helped maintain incomes and employment level, and provide short term liquidity insurance to financial institutions (through central banks’ LLR) in the first phase of the crisis. However, the intensification of the crisis post Lehman’s collapse in September 2008 compounded macroeconomic spillovers and the severity of adverse feedback loop, Bernanke (2009b). As a result, in October 2008, there has been an unprecedented level of Government intervention through Central Banks’ massive liquidity injections in the financial system to contain the systemic risk of macroeconomic spillovers, restore stability and confidence on international financial markets post the fall of Lehman brothers. Major Central Banks across the globe including the European Central Bank, Bank of England and the Fed cordially decided to ample monetary policy and reduce interest rates to nearly zero %.

Beyond the Interest Rate Policy Tool:

The Fed $700Bn Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP)

In the United State, the treasury got the congress to approve the $700Bn Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), the first tranche of which was an “asset management” strategy initially designed to purchase non-performing assets to revitalize and detoxify banks’ balance sheets or directly pomp liquidity into banks by taking equity positions to recapitalize distressed banks. The TARP mainly intended to strengthen the capital base of US Banks and facilitate the continuity of credit supply to consumers and prominent industries and sector in order to buffer the systemic effects of the financial turbulence on the U.S macro-economy. On October 14, the US treasury injected directly USD 125bn capital in 9 major financial institutions in exchange for preferred shares requiring 5% dividend that will lifted up to 9 % after 5 years; and beneficiaries will strictly commitment to follow the corporate governance standards and executives compensation directives of the Treasury, Wehinger (2008). The scope of intervention surpassed the TARP as the Fed took further step to take commitment to boost lending activities through commitments on loans and guarantees that could probably exceed USD 700bn Blundell-Wignall et al (2008a).

Policy Response in the Euro Zone and the United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, Gordon Brown anticipated the gravity of situation and decided on October 11, 2008 to directly inject new capital amounted to GBP 37 billion in into Britain’s largest banks and undertake a bail-out plan of GBP 400 billion to restore stability on financial stability. On October 12, 2008, nations of the Euro Zone joined their strength at the European Council and agreed on EUR 1,873 billion European action plan to cordially respond to the financial turbulence. This international collaboration at the EU Level aimed to ameliorate liquidity conditions on financial market and support the European Central Bank (ECB) interventions on the interbank market to enhance the availability of funding for bank s. this was to be achieve through government guarantees, liquidity injections and recapitalizations of banks. Germany agreed to respectively provide EUR 400 billion for interbank credit insurance to restore confidence and up to EUR 100 billion to recapitalize banks. On the other hand, France committed to interbank lending guarantee and bank capital injections amounted to EUR 360 billion. Norway, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Austria, and Portugal will together join strength to provide EUR 501 billion in total both for capital and guarantee, Wehinger (2008, p.9). The IMF statistics show significant growth in selected central banks assets as a response to the crisis, (see: Chart 5). The financial crisis resulted in extremely severe global economic consequences which significantly deteriorated the world economic outlook (see Chart 6).

Chart 5 Chart 6

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