Markets ‘Artificially’ Rally after FED and ECB Refill Bankers’ Pockets

By Scott Lanman
Bloomberg
November 30, 2011

The Federal Reserve cut the cost of emergency dollar funding for European banks as part of a globally coordinated central-bank response to the continent’s sovereign-debt crisis.

The interest rate has been reduced to the dollar overnight index swap rate plus 50 basis points, or half a percentage point, from 100 basis points, and the program was extended to Feb. 1, 2013, the Fed said in a statement in Washington. The Fed will coordinate with the European Central Bank in the program, which was also joined by the Bank of Canada, Bank of England, Bank of Japan (8301), and Swiss National Bank. (SNBN)

The move is aimed at easing strains in markets and boosting the central banks’ capacity to support the global financial system, the statement said. The cost for European banks to fund in dollars rose to the highest levels in three years today as concerns about a possible breakup of the euro area increased after leaders said they’d failed to boost the region’s bailout fund as much as planned.

“When there’s concerted action by central banks, it’s definitely good,” said Jens Sondergaard, senior European economist at Nomura International Plc in London. “But are liquidity injections a game changer when the heart of the problem is in European sovereign debt markets?”

The six central banks also agreed to create temporary bilateral swap programs so funding can be provided in any of the currencies “should market conditions so warrant.” Those swap lines were also authorized through Feb. 1, 2013.

The dollar swap lines were previously set to expire Aug. 1, 2012. The new pricing will be applied to operations starting on Dec. 5.

Stocks Climb

European stocks extended their gains, the euro advanced against the dollar and Treasuries fell after the announcement. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index increased 2.2 percent to 236.66 at 1:19 p.m. in London. The euro rose to $1.3450 from $1.3317 late yesterday. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note climbed to 2.06 percent from 1.99 percent.

Separately, China two hours earlier cut the amount of cash that banks must set aside as reserves for the first time since 2008. The level for the biggest lenders falls to 21 percent from a record 21.5 percent, based on past statements.

The Frankfurt-based ECB, which says it is up to governments to stem the two-year-old debt crisis, unexpectedly cut its benchmark interest rate Nov. 3 as the turmoil threatens to drag the euro area into recession.

Refinancing Operation

Yesterday the ECB allotted the most to banks in its regular seven-day refinancing operation in more than two years, lending 265.5 billion euros. The ECB offers unlimited funding to euro- area banks against eligible collateral.

“The purpose of these actions is to ease strains in financial markets and thereby mitigate the effects of such strains on the supply of credit to households and businesses and so help foster economic activity,” the statement said.

Under the dollar liquidity-swap program, the Fed lends dollars to the ECB and other central banks in exchange for currencies including euros. The central banks lend dollars to commercial banks in their jurisdictions through an auction process.

The swap arrangements were revived in May 2010 when the debt crisis in Europe worsened. The Fed three months earlier had closed all swap lines opened during the financial crisis triggered by the subprime-mortgage meltdown in 2007.