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Fed aid in financial crisis went beyond U.S. banks to industry, foreign firms

These leaders have been a driving force behind the nation's economic policies since the financial crisis of 2008.

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The data revealed that the Fed continued making purchases into the summer of 2009 - after the official end of the recession - showing that it was still concerned about a fundamental part of the financial system even as economic growth was returning.

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The disclosure shows "how really profound the financial crisis was in the fall of 2008 and the firepower the Fed mustered in response," said analyst Karen Shaw Petrou of Federal Financial Analytics.

Foreign-owned banks also benefited from the Fed's commercial-paper facility. The Korean Development Bank, owned by the South Korean government, used the program to the tune of billions of dollars, including a $407 million short-term loan on a single day. Many foreign banks, including the French BNP Paribas, the Swiss UBS and the German Deutsche Bank, took extensive advantage of various programs. Even a major bank in Bavaria benefited, as well as another one headquartered in Bahrain, a tiny island country in the Middle East.

Another Fed program allowed investment banks for the first time to borrow directly from the Fed as officials sought to stem the panic that had taken down Wall Street titan Bear Stearns. The central bank assisted 18 companies through this program. Among the biggest beneficiaries was Citigroup, which in a single day in November 2008 borrowed $18.6 billion from the Fed.

The data also demonstrate how the Fed, in its scramble to keep the financial system afloat, eventually lowered its standards for the kind of collateral it allowed participating banks to post. From Citigroup, for instance, it accepted $156 million in triple-C collateral or lower - grades that indicate that the assets carried the greatest risk of default.

Dallas Federal Reserve President Richard Fisher defended the Fed's actions during the financial crisis, saying the central bank "stepped into the breach" in its role as a lender of last resort.

"That's what we are paid to do," he said. "We took an enormous amount of risk with the people's money," he acknowledged. But the crisis lending programs are now all closed, he said, "and we didn't lose a dime, and in fact we made money on every one of them."

The banks universally hailed the Fed on Wednesday.

"In late 2008, many of the US funding markets were clearly broken," Goldman Sachs said in a statement, echoing similar comments made by Bank of America and Citigroup. "The Federal Reserve took essential steps to fix these markets and its actions were very successful."

By 2009, Goldman and other Wall Street firms were reporting their best profits ever. That allowed these banks to pay out huge salaries again, but it also drew the ire of lawmakers and ordinary Americans.

Sanders, for one, said these banks got off easy while receiving extraordinary aid. In rescuing these firms, the Fed never required them to lend to small businesses, modify the mortgages of homeowners or invest in a way that would create jobs.

"We bailed these guys out, but the requirements placed upon them had very little positive impact on the needs of ordinary Americans," Sanders said.

yangjl@washpost.com irwinn@washpost.com hilzenrath@washpost.com


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