Directors at one Federal Reserve regional bank called last month for lower emergency-borrowing costs for financial institutions to align interest rates inside and outside the U.S.
Members of the Boston Fed’s board of directors on Dec. 8 urged a quarter-percentage point discount-rate reduction, to 0.5 percent, “as a technical adjustment to better align the rate with the recently reduced charges on the Federal Reserve’s dollar liquidity swap arrangements with major foreign central banks,” according to Fed minutes released in Washington today, which summarize regional-bank discussions.
The Fed’s November decision to lower the interest rate on the swap lines by a half-point made it cheaper for banks abroad to borrow dollars than U.S. institutions could do at home. Ten regional Fed banks sought no change in the discount rate, while the Kansas City Fed repeated its request for a quarter-point increase.
“Although the outlook had improved somewhat, directors expected that growth would continue to be gradual and uneven over the coming quarters,” the Fed minutes said, citing directors in favor of no interest-rate change. “Conditions in the labor and housing markets were still a source of concern, despite some hiring activity and positive reports about sales and construction in the multifamily sector.”
Under the swap lines, the Fed lends money to counterparts including the European Central Bank, who then make dollar loans to banks in their jurisdiction. Since the Fed and other central banks on Nov. 30 announced the interest-rate cut in a coordinated move, Fed swap-line loans have surged to $99.8 billion from $2.4 billion.
On Jan. 4, banks had no outstanding borrowing in primary credit from the Fed’s discount window. Lending peaked at about $111 billion in October 2008.
Today’s report shows concerns about the economy among most Fed directors, who consist of bankers, corporate executives and community leaders. Central bank policy makers led by Chairman Ben S. Bernanke are debating whether to try additional steps to lower borrowing costs and reduce joblessness faster.
“Many directors indicated that uncertainty about global financial markets, the economic outlook, and U.S. regulatory and fiscal policies was contributing to ongoing caution and restraint on the part of consumers and businesses,” the minutes said.
The minutes covered two meetings in November and December to discuss the Fed’s discount rate, which is charged on emergency loans to banks. The Fed’s Board of Governors kept the rate unchanged.
A separate set of minutes for the Federal Open Market Committee’s Dec. 13 discussion about monetary policy was released last week. The FOMC next meets in Washington on Jan. 24-25.
Each of the Fed’s 12 regional banks has a nine-member board of directors that advises on discount-rate changes. The requests are subject to final review and determination by the Fed board, which consists of the central bank’s five Washington-based governors. They review requests about every two weeks.
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