The Federal Reserve Board placed major new restraints yesterday on the growth of credit for consumers and businesses to accompany President Carter's new anti-inflation program.
The central bank also put new restrictions on money market mutual funds that will mean lower interest payments to new investors; tightened reserve requirements on certain bank funds, and raised a key interest rate charged some banks that borrow frequently from the Fed itself.
All of the actions are intended to curb inflationary pressures by slowing the pace at which new loans are being made to businesses and consumers. Federal Reserve officials stressed that the "backbone" of their policy, however, remains their intention to reduce growth of the money supply even if that means continued high interest rates.
"Everything we have been doing stands," declared a Federal Reserve official.
President Carter, who invoked his powers under the Credit Control Act of 1969 to give the Federal Reserve additional authority to take some of the new steps, said at his press conference last night the nation seemed to have decided it coule "beat inflation by borrowing . . . It is as if we have to believe that a penny borrowed is a penny earned."
Using part of its new authority, the Fed imposed a "special deposit" requirement for banks, gasoline companies, retailers, credit card companies and others that extend certain types of credit to consumers. This will make it costly for the lenders to increase their total amount of credit beyond their amounts outstanding at the end of February.
The Fed placed no specific restrictions on credit card use, down payments or minumum monthly payments.
In the types of credit that are covered, it will be up to the lenders to decide whether to slow the increase and if so how they will do it.
The types of consumer credit covered include credit cards issued by financial institutions, retailers and oil companies; overdraft and special check-type credit plans; unsecured personal loans, open account and 30-day credit without regard to whether a finance charge is imposed; credit secured by financial assets when the collateral is not purchased with the proceeds of the loan; and loans for which the collateral is already owned by the borrower.
Some consumer loans are exempt. These include credit to buy automobiles; mortgage loans for buying or improving a home; insurance company policy loans; credit extended for paying utility, medical or education bills; any loans with state or federal goverment guarantees, such as student loans and savings account passbook loans.
A lender who has outstanding at least $2 million worth of the covered credit must deposit with the Fed an amount of money equal to 15 percent of the increase in the total of such loans since the end of February. The Fed pays no interest on such deposits, so it will be costly to the lenders to lend added amounts of money.
Federal Reserve officials said the lenders might try to hold down the increases in their credit totals by issuing fewer new credit cards, dropping some less creditworthy card holders (something at least one Washington-area credit card company is already doing), increasing finance charges where state usury laws permit, requiring faster repayments, and so forth.
Most of the other Fed actions yesterday were aimed at sharply slowiing increases in business borrowing, particularly for what officials called "nonproductive" purposes.
To that end, the central bank placed a 3-perentage-point surcharge on the interest rate it charges large banks that borrow directly from the Federal Reserve an do it frequently. The Fed wants to discourage borrowing by banks who have access to national money markets, but it left unchanged at 13 percent the basic discount rate it will charge smaller banks without such access and large banks that only borrow occasonally.
The Fed instituted a new "special credit restraint program" under which banks will be asked voluntarily to hold the increase in their total loans and investments this year to a range of 6 percent to 9 percent.
The banks will also be asked: to restrain unsecured financing of corporate takeovers or mergers and repurchase of a company's own stock unless "there is a clear justification in terms of production or economic efficiency," and to avoid financing purely speculative holdings of commodities.
No numerical guidelines will be set for each bank, Fed officials said, but domestic banks with assets in excess of $1 billion, and U.S. Branches and agency offices of foreign banks that have worldwide assets of that size, will be required to report monthly on their business and consumer lending.
While there are no penalties for non-compliance, the Fed has considerable power to coerce the banks into going along with the 6 percent to 9 percent limit on loan growth.
The Fed picked that particular range, a key official there explained, because it is consistent with the central bank's targets for money growth this year. There was a danger, he said, that if banks continued to make business loans and approve lines of credit for future use at the rate of recent weeks, there could be a full-scale money crunch if the Fed held to its money-growth targets.
In a further effort to stem the flow out of savings accounts which has worsened the shortage of home mortgage money, the Fed for the first time will require a special deposit from money market mutual funds equal to 15 percent of any increase in their assets above the level of March 14.
Fed officials expect some of the popular, rapidly growing funds to keep interest rates high for present shareholders by halting new investments, while perhaps starting separate new funds for other investors. The required special deposit would probably mean a new fund could only pay an interest rate roughly the same as is currently paid on money market certificates issued by thrift institutions, the official said.
In a final move yesterday, the Fed used the Credit Control Act authority to extend a special deposit requirement to non-member banks on certain of their funds while tightening the existing reserve requirements for the same funds in member banks.