Subprime Mortgage Crisis - Causes - Policies of Central Banks

Policies of Central Banks

Central banks manage monetary policy and may target the rate of inflation. They have some authority over commercial banks and possibly other financial institutions. They are less concerned with avoiding asset price bubbles, such as the housing bubble and dot-com bubble. Central banks have generally chosen to react after such bubbles burst so as to minimize collateral damage to the economy, rather than trying to prevent or stop the bubble itself. This is because identifying an asset bubble and determining the proper monetary policy to deflate it are matters of debate among economists.

Some market observers have been concerned that Federal Reserve actions could give rise to moral hazard. A Government Accountability Office critic said that the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's rescue of Long-Term Capital Management in 1998 would encourage large financial institutions to believe that the Federal Reserve would intervene on their behalf if risky loans went sour because they were “too big to fail.”

A contributing factor to the rise in house prices was the Federal Reserve's lowering of interest rates early in the decade. From 2000 to 2003, the Federal Reserve lowered the federal funds rate target from 6.5% to 1.0%. This was done to soften the effects of the collapse of the dot-com bubble and of the September 2001 terrorist attacks, and to combat the perceived risk of deflation.

The Fed believed that interest rates could be lowered safely primarily because the rate of inflation was low; it disregarded other important factors. Richard W. Fisher, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said that the Fed's interest rate policy during the early 2000s (decade) was misguided, because measured inflation in those years was below true inflation, which led to a monetary policy that contributed to the housing bubble. According to Ben Bernanke, now chairman of the Federal Reserve, it was capital or savings pushing into the United States, due to a world wide "saving glut", which kept long term interest rates low independently of Central Bank action.

The Fed then raised the Fed funds rate significantly between July 2004 and July 2006. This contributed to an increase in 1-year and 5-year ARM rates, making ARM interest rate resets more expensive for homeowners. This may have also contributed to the deflating of the housing bubble, as asset prices generally move inversely to interest rates and it became riskier to speculate in housing.

Read more about this topic:  Subprime Mortgage Crisis, Causes

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