Central banks pumped vast amounts of extra funds into world financial markets for a second day on Tuesday in an increasingly fraught effort to contain the fallout from the crisis sweeping Wall Street’s biggest firms.
From Sydney to Frankfurt, central banks injected billions of dollars of emergency funds to stop money markets from seizing up but even that could not prevent a surge in the cost of borrowing between banks, in cases on a scale unseen even when the global credit crunch hit in earnest in August 2007.
Stocks fell again, with Europe’s FTSEurofirst index hitting a three-year low at one stage as investors fretted over events on Wall Street, where Lehman Brothers, once thought too big to fail, filed for bankruptcy protection on Monday, and where another giant, insurer AIG, is seeking survival help.
“It’s clear that this financial market crisis is the worst worldwide in decades, and it is not over,” Germany’s finance minister, Peer Steinbrueck, told parliament. The European Central Bank injected €70 billion ($98.09 billion) into money markets on Tuesday, after €30 billion the day before. Demand from banks for Tuesday’s funds, a measure of how much other sources of liquidity are drying up, topped €100 billion.
In Britain, the Bank of England injected £20 billion ($35.21 billion), after £5 billion on Monday. Demand was three times the amount of extra liquidity offered on Tuesday. As for overnight borrowing in dollars, the cost revealed by the Libor (London interbank offered rate) fixing rose more than twofold to 6.43750% from 3.10625 on Monday, its highest since January 2001, the latest fixing by the British Banker’s Association on Tuesday showed. “This is much worse than August last year,” said one market source, referring to the day the credit crunch snowballed out of the United States, forcing central banks to launch emergency liquidity operations.
Asian central banks also rolled into action, with those of Japan, Australia and India flooding money markets with cash. The region’s banks doled out $17 billion, following Monday’s $70 billion Federal Reserve injection. The Bank of Japan made its biggest cash injection in almost six months, ¥1.5 trillion ($14.2 billion), and the prime minister met top financial policy makers to discuss events. The rates at which banks lend to each other jumped in South Korea too, and in the financial hub of Hong Kong, while Asian stock markets, many of them closed for a holiday on Monday, tumbled and currencies whipsawed. The Bank of Japan is expected to leave its key interest rate unchanged at 0.5% today. In contrast, markets are pricing in an almost 100% chance of a 25 basis point cut in the US benchmark rate to 1.75%.
US markets appeared poised for another sell off yesterday after ratings agencies downgraded AIG’s debt, complicating its battle for survival. Shockwaves from the Wall Street crisis prompted the Reserve Bank of Australia to pump nearly A$1.8 billion ($1.5 billion) into the banking system in its second injection in two days. The Reserve Bank of India added almost Rs60 billion ($1.32 billion) through a refinance operation, its biggest injection in at least a month.
Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, New Zealand and Indonesia all offered verbal reassurances, as did governments in Europe. Russia’s central bank injected a record $14 billion on one-day funds. Paris, Berlin and Rome have all made statements saying banks on their own patches should see only limited damage from events on the other side of the Atlantic.
French Economy Minister Christine Lagarde and Germany’s Steinbrueck said one of the risks outside the financial sector was the extent to which banks would stop lending to firms and individuals, hitting the economy more generally. (Reuters)