Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke testified yesterday before the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Financial Services on the "Troubled Asset Relief Program and the Federal Reserve's liquidity facilities." Bernanke detailed the Fed's major support programs in the money market and cited a marked improvement in money market funds and the commercial paper market.

He said, "As I noted earlier, the Federal Reserve has taken a range of policy actions to provide liquidity to the financial system and thus promote the extension of credit to households and businesses. Our recent actions have focused on the market for commercial paper, which is an important source of short-term financing for many financial and nonfinancial firms."

Bernanke continued, "Normally, money market mutual funds are major lenders in the commercial paper markets. However, in mid-September, a large fund suffered losses and heavy redemptions, causing it to suspend further redemptions and then close. In the next few weeks, investors withdrew almost $500 billion from prime money market funds. The funds, concerned about their ability to meet further redemptions, began to reduce their purchases of commercial paper and limit the maturity of such paper to only overnight or other very short maturities. As a result, interest rate spreads paid by issuers on longer-maturity commercial paper widened significantly, and issuers were exposed to the costs and risks of having to roll over increasingly large amounts of paper each day."

"The Federal Reserve has developed three programs to address these problems. The first allows money market mutual funds to sell asset-backed commercial paper to banking organizations, which are then permitted to borrow against the paper on a non-recourse basis from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Usage of that facility peaked at around $150 billion. The facility contributed importantly to the ability of money funds to meet redemption pressures when they were most intense and remains available as a backstop should such pressures reemerge," he explained to Congress.

He continued, "The second program involves the funding of a special-purpose vehicle that purchases highly rated commercial paper issued by financial and nonfinancial businesses at a term of three months. This facility has purchased about $250 billion of commercial paper, allowing many firms to extend significant amounts of funding into next year."

"A third facility, expected to be operational next week, will provide a liquidity backstop directly to money market mutual funds. This facility is intended to give funds confidence to extend significantly the maturities of their investments and reduce over time the reliance of issuers on sales to the Federal Reserve's special-purpose vehicle. All of these programs, which were created under section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act, must be terminated when conditions in financial markets are determined by the Federal Reserve to no longer be unusual and exigent," said the Chairman.

Finally, Bernanke said, "The primary objective of these and other actions we have taken is to stabilize credit markets and to improve the access to credit of businesses and households. There are some signs that credit markets, while still quite strained, are improving. Interbank short-term funding rates have fallen notably since mid-October, and we are seeing greater stability in money market mutual funds and in the commercial paper market."

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