The central bank deal: Five things to know

at 10:12 AM ET, 11/30/2011


(Joshua Roberts - BLOOMBERG)
As my colleague Neil Irwin reports this morning, major central banks announced a new strategy this morning to halt Europe’s financial woes from undermining the global economy. Here are five things to know about what happened this morning:

1. The big ticket item: swaps to increase liquidity. One key challenge facing banks right now, particularly those in Europe, is liquidity: Making sure they have enough credit to meet their lending obligations. That’s exactly the issue that the Federal Reserve, along with five other central banks, is tackling today. They’re lowering the costs of moving money from the Federal Reserve to other central banks through what are called “liquidity swap lines.” “In effect,” Irwin explains, “the Fed is handing over money to other global central banks—now at a lower rate than in the past—and those central banks, in turn, lend the dollars to banks in their countries that are facing difficulties funding themselves.”

2. The big countries are coordinating. The deal announced today includes coordination from six major central banks: the Federal Reserve, the European Central banks and central banks in Canada, Britain, Switzerland and Japan. This is one thing that has impressed analysts - not just the firepower that comes from having such large, central banks involved, but also the knowledge that major central banks are actually working together to tackle the debt crisis. “This shows that central banks across the world continue to cooperate and that the ECB, and its partners, are very aware of the funding stress that European banks are under at the moment,” Christian Schulz of Berenberg Bank tells Reuters.

3. A more permanent swap set-up. These swaps aren’t new; they were introduced in 2007 to address a financial challenges similar to the ones we’re facing right now. As the Federal Reserve explains, the swaps were then meant to alleviate “pressures in funding and credit markets in the United States and abroad.” Now though, they’ll become more permanent and stay in place until February 2013.

4. The markets are excited; the analysts are skeptically supportive. Just about every market surged with news of this morning’s announcement. The Euro rallied as did German government bonds. But analysts aren’t quite as cheery. While they say the move matters, it’s not a solution: Europe still faces a massive debt burden that it will tackle in days and weeks ahead. “This is something that is very welcome,” RBS economist Silvio Peruzzo tells Reuters. “This will not solve all deep-based funding problems which are due to the sovereign debt crisis. But there is an issue with dollar liquidity, especially with foreign currency and this measure addresses that.”

5. All eyes on European Central Bank. After a Tuesday meeting, European finance ministers have delayed any major policy action until 10 days from now. “We are now entering the critical period of 10 days to complete and conclude the crisis response of the European Union,” EU monetary affairs commissioner Olli Rehn told the AP, adding that no “one single silver bullet will get us out of this crisis.” It will be another week til the world learns what weapons Europe does have in its arsenal, and how it intends to use them.

 
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