In an unprecedented action, the US Federal Reserve reduced its primary credit rate by 150 basis points to 0.25 percent, effective March 16, 2020. This reduction in the primary credit rate reflects both the 100 basis point reduction in the target range for the federal funds rate and a 50 basis point narrowing in the primary credit rate relative to the top of the target range.
The Federal Reserve just recently dropped its benchmark rate by 50 basis points as it attempted to battle the economic ramifications of the Coronavirus, or COVID-19, pandemic.
The Fed said that narrowing the spread of the primary credit rate relative to the general level of overnight interest rates should help encourage more active use of the window by depository institutions to meet unexpected funding needs. To further enhance the role of the discount window as a tool for banks in addressing potential funding pressures, the Board also today announced that depository institutions may borrow from the discount window for periods as long as 90 days, prepayable and renewable by the borrower on a daily basis. The Federal Reserve continues to accept the same broad range of collateral for discount window loans.
The Federal Reserve Board also reduced reserve requirement ratios to zero percent effective on March 26, the beginning of the next reserve maintenance period. This action eliminates reserve requirements for thousands of depository institutions and will help to support lending to households and businesses.
In a separate statement, the Federal Reserve Board said that the coronavirus outbreak has harmed communities and disrupted economic activity in many countries, including the United States. Global financial conditions have also been significantly affected. Available economic data show that the U.S. economy came into this challenging period on a strong footing. Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in January indicates that the labor market remained strong through February and economic activity rose at a moderate rate. Job gains have been solid, on average, in recent months, and the unemployment rate has remained low. Although household spending rose at a moderate pace, business fixed investment and exports remained weak. More recently, the energy sector has come under stress. On a 12‑month basis, overall inflation and inflation for items other than food and energy are running below 2 percent. Market-based measures of inflation compensation have declined; survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations are little changed.
The Fed added that it expects the effects of the coronavirus will weigh on economic activity in the near term and pose risks to the economic outlook. In light of these developments, the Committee decided to lower the target range for the federal funds rate to 0 to 1/4 percent. The Committee expects to maintain this target range until it is confident that the economy has weathered recent events and is on track to achieve its maximum employment and price stability goals. This action will help support economic activity, strong labor market conditions, and inflation returning to the Committee’s symmetric 2 percent objective.
The Committee said it will continue to monitor the implications of incoming information for the economic outlook, including information related to public health, as well as global developments and muted inflation pressures, and will use its tools and act as appropriate to support the economy.
The Federal Reserve said it is prepared to use its full range of tools to support the flow of credit to households and businesses and thereby promote its maximum employment and price stability goals.
To support the smooth functioning of markets for Treasury securities and agency mortgage-backed securities that are central to the flow of credit to households and businesses, over the coming months the Fed will increase its holdings of Treasury securities by at least $500 billion and its holdings of agency mortgage-backed securities by at least $200 billion.
As the Federal Reserve announced the emergency rate cut, the Bank of Canada, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan, the European Central Bank, and the Swiss National Bank, joined the Fed in announcing a coordinated action to enhance the provision of liquidity via the standing U.S. dollar liquidity swap line arrangements.
These central banks have agreed to lower the pricing on the standing U.S. dollar liquidity swap arrangements by 25 basis points, so that the new rate will be the U.S. dollar overnight index swap (OIS) rate plus 25 basis points. To increase the swap lines’ effectiveness in providing term liquidity, the foreign central banks with regular U.S. dollar liquidity operations have also agreed to begin offering U.S. dollars weekly in each jurisdiction with an 84-day maturity, in addition to the 1-week maturity operations currently offered. These changes will take effect with the next scheduled operations during the week of March 16. The new pricing and maturity offerings will remain in place as long as appropriate to support the smooth functioning of U.S. dollar funding markets.
The swap lines are available standing facilities and serve as an important liquidity backstop to ease strains in global funding markets, thereby helping to mitigate the effects of such strains on the supply of credit to households and businesses, both domestically and abroad
The vote by the Board at the Fed was not unanimous as Loretta J. Mesteras voted against the action. Voting for the monetary policy action were Jerome H. Powell, Chair; John C. Williams, Vice-Chair; Michelle W. Bowman; Lael Brainard; Richard H. Clarida; Patrick Harker; Robert S. Kaplan; Neel Kashkari; and Randal K. Quarles.
Mesteras supported of all of the actions taken to promote the smooth functioning of markets and the flow of credit to households and businesses but preferred to reduce the target range for the federal funds rate to 1/2 to 3/4 percent at this meeting.