Great Recession

Financial Crisis: The Endgame

Ten years ago this month, the run on Lehman Brothers kicked off the third and final phase of the Great Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2007-2009. In two earlier posts (here and here), we describe the prior phases of the crisis. The first began on August 9, 2007, when BNP Paribas suspended redemptions from three mutual funds invested in U.S. subprime debt, kicking off a global scramble for safe, liquid assets. And the second started seven months later when, in response to the March 2008 run on Bear Stearns, the Fed provided liquidity directly to nonbanks for the first time since the Great Depression, completing its crisis-driven evolution into an effective lender of last resort to solvent, but illiquid intermediaries.

The most intense period of the crisis began with the failure of Lehman Brothers on September 15, 2008. Credit dried up; not just uncollateralized lending, but short-term lending backed by investment-grade collateral as well. In mid-September, measures of financial stress spiked far above levels seen before or since (see here and here). And, the spillover to the real economy was rapid and dramatic, with the U.S. economy plunging that autumn at the fastest pace since quarterly reporting began in 1947.

In our view, three, interrelated policy responses proved critical in arresting the crisis and promoting recovery. First was the Fed’s aggressive monetary stimulus: after Lehman, within its mandate, the Fed did “whatever it took” to end the crisis. Second was the use of taxpayer resources—authorized by Congress—to recapitalize the U.S. financial system. And third, was the exceptional disclosure mechanism introduced by the Federal Reserve in early 2009—the first round of macroprudential stress tests known as the Supervisory Capital Assessment Program (SCAP)—that neutralized the worst fears about U.S. banks.

In this post, we begin with a bit of background, highlighting the aggregate capital shortfall of the U.S. financial system as the source of the crisis. We then turn to the policy response. Because we have discussed unconventional monetary policy in some detail in previous posts (here and here), our focus here is on the stress tests (combined with recapitalization) as a central means for restoring confidence in the financial system….

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Central Banks and Systematic Risks

Modern economies are built by businesses that take risk. As Edison’s defense suggests, successful risk-takers need scope to experiment without distraction. Economies lacking institutions to support risk-taking are prone to stagnation.

By securing economic and financial stability, central banks play a key role in promoting the risk-taking that is fundamental to innovation and capital formation. On rare occasions, it is officials’  bold willingness to do “whatever it takes” that does the job. More often, it is a series of moderate, gradual actions. Yet, even then, the understanding that the central bank has the broad capacity to act—and, when necessary, to do so without limit—is a key factor underpinning the stability of the system...

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Monetary Policy: A Lesson Learned

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) recently ended another round of large-scale asset purchases, so now is a good opportunity to take stock of what Fed policy has achieved since the peak of the financial crisis in fall 2008.

Back in 2002, then-Governor Ben Bernanke gave a speech entitled “Deflation: Making Sure "It" Doesn't Happen Here.” His message was that the experience of the 1930s taught us the importance of using aggressive monetary accommodation to avoid deflation. As Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board during the financial crisis of 2007-2009, Bernanke and his colleagues took actions that their 1930s predecessors had not. The result was a Great Recession, not another Great Depression...

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Debt, Great Recession and the Awful Recovery

Debt has been reviled at least since biblical times, frequently for reasons of class (“The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.” Proverbs 22:7). In their new book, House of Debt, Atif Mian and Amir Sufi portray the income and wealth differences between borrowers and lenders as the key to the Great Recession and the Awful Recovery (our term). If, as they argue, the “debt overhang” story trumps the now-conventional narrative of a financial crisis-driven economic collapse, policymakers will also need to revise the tools they use to combat such deep slumps...
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