Mar 2, 2020
A brief history of the Federal Reserve's emergency rate shifts
Former Fed governor calls for coordinated rate cuts
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Bank of America Corp. economists are among those suggesting Federal Reserve policy makers could deliver an emergency interest rate cut if fears about the coronavirus continue to roil financial markets.
Goldman’s economists say Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and colleagues will cut their benchmark by 50 basis points at or by the time they are set to meet on March 17-18. At Bank of America, economists say “an emergency cut” is possible by that scheduled gathering.
Such a move would be rare, yet not unprecedented. Here’s a brief history of when Fed officials have convened by conference call and delivered an inter-meeting shift to monetary policy:
Oct. 8, 2008
As the September collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. roiled financial markets and raised recession fears, the Fed cut the federal funds rate by 50 basis points to 1.5 per cent as part of a coordinated action.
“The Committee took this action in light of evidence pointing to a weakening of economic activity and a reduction in inflationary pressures,” the Federal Open Market Committee said. It would go on to ultimately cut its main rate as low as 0.25 per cent.
Jan. 22, 2008
The Fed cut its key rate by 75 basis points to 3.5 per cent after stock markets tumbled amid increasing signs of a U.S. recession.
Policy makers said in a statement that they acted “in view of a weakening of the economic outlook and increasing downside risks to growth.”
Aug. 17, 2007
The Fed lowered its discount rate -- the rate it charges banks -- by 50 basis points to 5.75 per cent as the subprime-mortgage collapse continued to roil financial markets.
“The Federal Reserve is providing liquidity to facilitate the orderly functioning of financial markets,” the statement said.
Sept. 17, 2001
Days after the 9/11 attacks, the Fed cut its main rate by 50 basis points to 3 per cent and promised to provide markets with “unusually large volumes of liquidity.”
Central banks in Europe and Canada matched the action.
April 18, 2001
Policy makers cut their benchmark interest rate a half-percentage point in an effort to shore up a slumping economy. It lowered its target rate for overnight loans between banks to 4.5 per cent from 5 per cent.
The Fed “has reviewed prospects for the economy in light of the information that has become available since its March meeting,” the Fed said in a statement.
Jan. 3, 2001
With the technology stock bubble having burst the previous year, the central bank began a new year cutting its benchmark by 50 basis points to 6 per cent. It was quite a shift from a few weeks earlier when the Fed had said the economic risks leaned towards inflation.
“These actions were taken in light of further weakening of sales and production, and in the context of lower consumer confidence, tight conditions in some segments of financial markets, and high energy prices sapping household and business purchasing power,” officials said.
Oct. 15, 1998
As Russia’s financial crisis and the collapse of Long Term Capital Management threatened a credit crunch, the Fed cut by 25 basis points to 5 per cent.
“Growing caution by lenders and unsettled conditions in financial markets more generally are likely to be restraining aggregate demand in the future,” it said.
April 18, 1994
The Fed can also hike rates outside of its normal schedule. That’s what happened here when it increased its rate to 3.75 per cent from 3.5 per cent.
“Chairman Alan Greenspan announced today that the Federal Reserve will increase slightly the degree of pressure on reserve positions,” the statement said. “This action is expected to be associated with a small increase in short-term money market interest rates.”