For many the subprime debacle and resultant credit crunch leading to the $700 billion government bailout of our credit markets began just a short while ago when The Treasury and Fed could not find a buyer for Lehman Brothers Holdings pushing it into bankruptcy and leading to the aquisition of Merrill Lynch by Bank of America. That was the beginning of a crazy week which saw the government take over Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and insurance giant AIG. The news of Lehman and Merrill hit Monday Sept. 15 and the Treasury put out word that a bailout was in the works by that Thursday.
Everyone knows what happened from there but few seem to remember the steps taken along the way.
The Fed began a massive easing campaign in September of 2007 despite second and third quarter GDP readings above 4%. In March of 2008, it allowed investment banks and brokerages to borrow from the discount window for the first time since the Depression. This happened while it arranged for the purchase of Bear Stearns by JP Morgan. In that deal the Fed (us) agreed to back $29 billion in questionable debt.
It created its Term Auction Facility in December 2007 and consistently added to it up to the day the bailout bill was passed as well as creating additional facilities to loan monies to investment banks and dealers while accepting toxic securities as collateral. The bailout represents a failure of all of these other very significant actions intended to loosen up the credit markets. Once you understand that you can understand why equity markets did not rejoice with the passage of the bailout.
While the $700 billion bailout figure seems large, even incomprenesible, the cost of the previous measures were more and that does not count the loss of interest by savers, the affect of inflation and others unintending consequences.