Feb Chairman Ben Bernanke said Friday the central bank's strategy to ease the financial crisis is working and he also acknowledged that the Fed was “extremely uncomfortable” about last year's bailouts for big financial companies.
Last year, the Feb made the unprecedented decisions to step in and financially back JPMorgan Chase & Co. and the insurance giant American International Group Inc.
The central bank was forced to take action then because the collapse of those companies would have dealt a serious blow to the financial system and the national economy, said Bernanke in remarks during a Fed conference in Charlotte, N.C.
Those attending the conference that focused on credit markets had their own predictions.
“My personal feeling is that we’ve hit bottom, and we’re going to be at the bottom for a while,” said Wesley Sturges, president of the Bank of Commerce in Charlotte. “We may be able to see positive things late fourth quarter, early part of next year.”
Since the financial crisis erupted in 2007, the Fed's balance sheet has more than doubled to $2 trillion from $870 billion and credit provided under those company bailouts accounts for only 5 percent of the Fed's current balance sheet.
These operations have been extremely uncomfortable for the Fed to undertake and were carried out only because no reasonable alternative was available, Bernanke said.
During his speech, Bernanke also defended the Fed’s decisions to revive the economy by plowing trillions of dollars into efforts to stabilize the banking system and to lower interest rates. Its program to buy mortgage-backed securities of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has helped drive down the rate on 30-year mortgages to record lows.
“These are extraordinary challenging times for our financial system and our economy,” he said said. “I am confident that we can meet these challenges, not least because I have great confidence in the underlying strengths of the American economy.”
In order to lift the economy out of recession, the central bank has slashed a key interest rate to near zero and taken the unconventional tools such as its recent decision to start buying government debt and to pull down interest rates on a range of consumer loans.