from Follow the Money

More extraordinary moves: $620 billion is real money, and it isn’t even for American financial institutions ...

September 29, 2008

Blog Post

Give the world’s central banks credit for using swap lines to cobble together a global lender of last resort:

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) has authorized a $330 billion expansion of its temporary reciprocal currency arrangements (swap lines). This increased capacity will be available to provide funding for U.S. dollar liquidity operations by the other central banks. The FOMC has authorized increases in all of the temporary swap facilities with other central banks. These larger facilities will now support the provision of U.S. dollar liquidity in amounts of up to $30 billion by the Bank of Canada, $80 billion by the Bank of England, $120 billion by the Bank of Japan, $15 billion by Danmarks Nationalbank, $240 billion by the ECB, $15 billion by the Norges Bank, $30 billion by the Reserve Bank of Australia, $30 billion by the Sveriges Riksbank, and $60 billion by the Swiss National Bank. As a result of these actions, the total size of outstanding swap lines is $620 billion.

All of the temporary reciprocal swap facilities have been authorized through April 30, 2009.

Dollar funding rates abroad have been elevated relative to dollar funding rates available in the United States, reflecting a structural dollar funding shortfall outside of the United States. The increase in the amount of foreign exchange swap authorization limits will enable many central banks to increase the amount of dollar funding that they can provide in their home markets. This should help to improve the distribution of dollar liquidity around the globe.

hat tip: Alphaville

Call this a consequence of the emergence of Europe (and London in particular) as an offshore banking center for the US. A host of European institutions (and probably some US institutions too) without US dollar deposits seemed to have dollar funds to buy dollar-denominated securities during the peak of the boom. And well the boom is turning to bust.

I suspect this activity explains all the risky bonds -- including asset-backed securities -- that the US sold to investors in the UK during the peak of the boom. And I also suspect the collapse of this activity explains the sharp fall in both inflows and outflows in the United States balance of payments data. Much of the "shadow" financial system was offshore.

These swaps lines -- essentially dollar loans from the US Federal Reserve to central banks outside the US with their currency posted as collateral -- are a way to provide financing to European and other financial institutions that need dollars.

When the current crisis ends, the regulatory structure for this global market will need to be rethought. And I would hope that the UK would also reconsider its aversion to making the investments needed to collect decent capital flows data -- data that might have helped us understand the buildup of vulnerabilities in advance.