Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Ben Bernanke Waves a Handkerchief

As the old saying goes, when America sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold. A second day of selloffs in overseas markets prompted the Fed to cut 75 basis point cuts in both the discount rate and the federal funds rate. From The New York Times this morning:
The Federal Reserve, responding to an international stock sell-off and the likelihood of a sharp drop in America on Tuesday morning, cut its benchmark interest rate by three-quarters of a percentage point.

The Federal Open Market Committee lowered its target for the federal funds rate on overnight loans between banks to 3.5 percent, from 4.25 percent.

In a statement, the Fed said: “The committee took this action in view of a weakening of the economic outlook and increasing downside risks to growth. While strains in short-term funding markets have eased somewhat, broader financial market conditions have continued to deteriorate and credit has tightened further for some businesses and households.”

“Moreover,” the statement continued, “incoming information indicates a deepening of the housing contraction as well as some softening in labor markets.”

In a related action, the Fed approved a 75 basis-point decrease in the discount rate, to 4 percent.

Within minutes after the announcement, trading in stock-index futures, which had been presaging a deep slide on American stock exchanges Tuesday, retraced much of their earlier declines, which had been driven by a second sour day in Asia and Europe.

The reaction of the overseas markets is what strikes me as excessive. Conditional on that, a rate reduction of some magnitude (if not 0.75 percentage points) is not much of a surprise. It should make for an interesting week in the financial markets.

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