The Coronavirus financial crisis is being compared to the near-collapse of the global financial system in 2008 and The Great Depression from 1929 to 1939, but there is one big difference this time: The Fed. The Federal Reserve Bank is using innovative new tools to contain the financial damage of the Coronavirus epidemic.
In the financial crisis of 2008, the chairman of the Fed at the time, Ben Bernanke, an academic who had spent decades studying previous financial crises, repeatedly deployed a technique called quantitative easing, expanding the Fed’s balance sheet to buy back U.S. Government bonds on the open market to lower long-term interest rates. The tactic had never before been used by a central bank in a major economy. It worked! and QE was one of the reasons the U.S. recovered smoothly from The Great Recession of 2008 and 2009. The Fed’s response to the Coronavirus crisis is literally 10 times more powerful.
Under the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and. Economic Security Act enacted March 27, 2020, the U.S. Government allocated $454 billion to Federal Reserve Bank Special Purpose Vehicles that the central bank can leverage 10 to 1, enabling it to lend up to $4.54 trillion to companies. That’s reportedly more than all U.S. commercial and industrial loans outstanding at the end of 2019 plus all the new corporate bonds issued during 2019 combined!
Although this expansion of the Fed’s power has been criticized already as a step toward a centrally planned economy, the government action limits the risk of massive corporate bond defaults. The U.S. led the worldwide economic recovery back from the global financial crisis of 2008, in part because of the Fed’s innovative approach, and Yankee ingenuity, in the form of the Fed’s new tools, is at play once again in fighting the Coronavirus financial crisis.
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