Credit Suisse Group AG (CS), Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) and Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc (RBS) each borrowed at least $30 billion in 2008 from a Federal Reserve emergency lending program whose details weren’t revealed to shareholders, members of Congress or the public
. The $80 billion initiative, called single-tranche open-market operations, or ST OMO, made 28-day loans from March through December 2008, a period in which confidence in global credit markets collapsed after the Sept. 15 bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. Units of 20 banks were required to bid at auctions for the cash. They paid interest rates as low as 0.01 percent
that December, when the Fed’s main lending facility charged 0.5 percent.
Congress overlooked ST OMO when lawmakers required the central bank to publish its emergency lending data last year under the Dodd-Frank
law. “I wasn’t aware of this program until now,” said U.S. Representative Barney Frank
, the Massachusetts Democrat who chaired the House Financial Services Committee in 2008 and co- authored the legislation overhauling financial regulation.
Zurich-based Credit Suisse
borrowed as much as $45 billion, according to bar graphs that appear on 27 of 29,000 pages the central bank provided to media organizations that sued the Fed Board of Governors for public disclosure. New York-based Goldman Sachs’s
borrowing peaked at about $30 billion, the records show, as did the program’s loans to RBS
, based in Edinburgh. Deutsche Bank
AG (DBK), Barclays
Plc (BARC) and UBS
AG (UBSN) each borrowed at least $15 billion, according to the graphs, which reflect deals made by 12 of the 20 eligible banks during the last four months of 2008.
One effect of the program was to spur trading in mortgage- backed securities
, said Lou Crandall, chief U.S. economist at Jersey City, New Jersey-based Wrightson ICAP LLC, a research company specializing in Fed operations. The 20 banks -- previously designated as primary dealers to trade government securities directly with the New York Fed -- posted mortgage securities guaranteed by government-sponsored enterprises such as Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac in exchange for the Fed’s cash.
ST OMO aimed to thaw a frozen short-term funding market and not necessarily to aid individual banks, Crandall said. Still, primary dealers earned spreads by using the program to help customers, such as hedge funds, finance their mortgage securities
, he said. “Spreads vary from one transaction to another,” making any calculation of dealers’ profits on the Fed loans impossible, Crandall said.
The Fed opposed disclosing details of its open market operations because doing so would probably cause borrowers “substantial competitive harm,” according to a March 2009 declaration by Christopher R. Burke, vice president of the New York Fed’s markets group. The declaration is filed in federal court.
Outstanding ST OMO loans from April 2008 to January 2009 stayed at $80 billion. The average loan amount during that time was $19.4 billion, more than three times the average for the 7 1/2 years prior
, according to New York Fed data. After the Fed created other lending mechanisms and the Treasury Department began distributing money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program in October, ST OMO became “just a way for banks to have at it
,” [Michael Greenberger, University of Maryland law prof and former directer FTC] said. “At such low interest rates, it’s no longer a rescue, it’s a profit-making enterprise
,” Greenberger said. “By December, a lot of money was made off this program.”
Goldman Sachs, led by Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C. Blankfein, tapped the program most in December 2008, when data on the New York Fed website show the loans were least expensive. The lowest winning bid at an ST OMO auction declined to 0.01 percent
on Dec. 30, 2008, New York Fed data show. At the time, the rate charged at the discount window was 0.5 percent. As its ST OMO loans peaked in December 2008, Goldman Sachs’s borrowing from other Fed facilities topped out at $43.5 billion, the 15th highest peak of all banks assisted by the Fed, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“The Fed was slamming the pedal to the metal in the lender-of-last-resort category,” Cochrane [University of Chicago Finance prof] said. “What they did was so far from what we conventionally think of as monetary policy.”
borrowing peaked at about $45 billion in September 2008, the Fed charts show. Steven Vames, a Credit Suisse spokesman in New York, declined to comment. Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank’s
use peaked at about $20 billion in October 2008, its chart shows. London-based Barclays’s
peak reached about $20 billion in December 2008, the chart said. Mark Lane, a Barclays spokesman, declined to comment. UBS
, based in Zurich, borrowed as much as about $15 billion in late 2008, the chart shows. New York-based Morgan Stanley
(MS) and Paris-based BNP Paribas
(BNP), France’s biggest bank by assets, took no more than about $10 billion. Citigroup
Inc. (C), JPMorgan
Chase & Co. and Merrill Lynch
& Co., which is now part of Bank of America Corp. (BAC), borrowed less than $5 billion each.
The bar charts were included in the Fed’s court-ordered March 31 disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act
. The release was mandated after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an industry group’s attempt to block it. Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, and News Corp. (NWS)’s Fox News Network LLC had sued the central bank after it refused to release lending records under the FOIA