Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen spoke Friday in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, on "Financial Stability a Decade after the Onset of the Crisis." She comments, "A decade has passed since the beginnings of a global financial crisis that resulted in the most severe financial panic and largest contraction in economic activity in the United States since the Great Depression. Already, for some, memories of this experience may be fading -- memories of just how costly the financial crisis was and of why certain steps were taken in response. Today I will look back at the crisis and discuss the reforms policymakers in the United States and around the world have made to improve financial regulation to limit both the probability and the adverse consequences of future financial crises." (See Crane Data's Aug. 11 News, "MMF Assets Jump, Prime Up Again; 10 Years Ago: Subprime Crisis Starts," and also see a timeline of the financial crisis from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.")

Yellen explains, "A resilient financial system is critical to a dynamic global economy--the subject of this conference.... Because of the reforms that strengthened our financial system, and with support from monetary and other policies, credit is available on good terms, and lending has advanced broadly in line with economic activity in recent years, contributing to today's strong economy. At the same time, reforms have boosted the resilience of the financial system. Banks are safer. The risk of runs owing to maturity transformation is reduced. Nonetheless, the scope and complexity of financial regulatory reforms demand that policymakers and researchers remain alert to both areas for improvement and unexpected side effects."

She continues, "I will start by reviewing where we were 10 years ago. I will then walk through some key reforms our country has put in place to diminish the chances of another severe crisis and limit damage during times of financial instability. After reviewing these steps, I will summarize indicators and research that show the improved resilience of the U.S. financial system--resilience that is due importantly to regulatory reform as well as actions taken by the private sector. I will then turn to the evidence regarding how financial regulatory reform has affected economic growth, credit availability, and market liquidity."

Yellen tells us, "The U.S. and global financial system was in a dangerous place 10 years ago. U.S. house prices had peaked in 2006, and strains in the subprime mortgage market grew acute over the first half of 2007. By August, liquidity in money markets had deteriorated enough to require the Federal Reserve to take steps to support it.... As we now know, the deterioration of liquidity and solvency within the financial sector continued over the next 13 months."

She says, "Accumulating strains across the financial system, including the collapse of Bear Stearns in March 2008, made it clear that vulnerabilities had risen across the system. As a result, policymakers took extraordinary measures: The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) sharply cut the federal funds rate, and the Federal Reserve, in coordination with the Treasury Department and other agencies, extended liquidity facilities beyond the traditional banking sector, applying to the modern structure of U.S. money markets the dictum of Walter Bagehot, conceived in the 19th century, to lend freely against good collateral at a penalty rate. Still, the deterioration in the financial sector continued, with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac failing in early September."

Yellen's speech explains, "But the deterioration from early 2007 until early September 2008 -- already the worst financial disruption in the United States in many decades -- was a slow trickle compared with the tidal wave that nearly wiped out the financial sector that September and led to a plunge in economic activity in the following months­. Not long after Fannie and Freddie were placed in government conservatorship, Lehman Brothers collapsed, setting off a week in which American International Group, Inc. (AIG), came to the brink of failure and required large loans from the Federal Reserve to mitigate the systemic fallout; a large money market fund "broke the buck" (that is, was unable to maintain a net asset value of $1 per share) and runs on other money funds accelerated, requiring the Treasury to provide a guarantee of money fund liabilities; global dollar funding markets nearly collapsed, necessitating coordinated action by central banks around the world; the two remaining large investment banks became bank holding companies, thereby ending the era of large independent investment banks in the United States; and the Treasury proposed a rescue of the financial sector."

She adds, "Within several weeks, the Congress passed -- and President Bush signed into law -- the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, which established the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program; the Federal Reserve initiated further emergency lending programs; and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) guaranteed a broad range of bank debt. Facing similar challenges in their own jurisdictions, many foreign governments also undertook aggressive measures to support the functioning of credit markets, including large-scale capital injections into banks, expansions of deposit insurance programs, and guarantees of some forms of bank debt."

Yellen states, "The vulnerabilities within the financial system in the mid-2000s were numerous and, in hindsight, familiar from past financial panics. Financial institutions had assumed too much risk, especially related to the housing market, through mortgage lending standards that were far too lax and contributed to substantial overborrowing. Repeating a familiar pattern, the "madness of crowds" had contributed to a bubble, in which investors and households expected rapid appreciation in house prices.... As a result, market and supervisory discipline was lacking, and financial institutions were allowed to take on high levels of leverage. This leverage was facilitated by short-term wholesale borrowing, owing in part to market-based vehicles, such as money market mutual funds and asset-backed commercial paper programs that allowed the rapid expansion of liquidity transformation outside of the regulated depository sector.... Securitization and the development of complex derivatives products distributed risk across institutions in ways that were opaque and ultimately destabilizing."

She explains, "In response, policymakers around the world have put in place measures to limit a future buildup of similar vulnerabilities.... U.S. leadership of global efforts through bodies such as the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, the Financial Stability Board (FSB), and the Group of Twenty has contributed to the development of standards that promote financial stability around the world.... Preeminent among these domestic and global efforts have been steps to increase the loss-absorbing capacity of banks, regulations to limit both maturity transformation in short-term funding markets and liquidity mismatches within banks, and new authorities to facilitate the resolution of large financial institutions and to subject systemically important firms to more stringent prudential regulation."

The Jackson Hole speech continues, "Reforms have also addressed the risks associated with maturity transformation. The fragility created by deposit-like liabilities outside the traditional banking sector has been mitigated by regulations promulgated by the Securities and Exchange Commission affecting prime institutional money market funds. These rules require these prime funds to use a floating net asset value, among other changes, a shift that has made these funds less attractive as cash-management vehicles. The changes at money funds have also helped reduce banks' reliance on unsecured short-term wholesale funding, since prime institutional funds were significant investors in those bank liabilities. Liquidity risk at large banks has been further mitigated by a new liquidity coverage ratio and a capital surcharge for global systemically important banks (G-SIBs). The liquidity coverage ratio requires that banks hold liquid assets to cover potential net cash outflows over a 30-day stress period. The capital surcharge for U.S. G-SIBs links the required level of capital for the largest banks to their reliance on short-term wholesale funding."

Finally, Yellen says, "The evidence shows that reforms since the crisis have made the financial system substantially safer. Loss-absorbing capacity among the largest banks is significantly higher, with Tier 1 common equity capital more than doubling from early 2009 to now. The annual stress-testing exercises in recent years have led to improvements in the capital positions and risk-management processes among participating banks. Large banks have cut their reliance on short-term wholesale funding essentially in half and hold significantly more high-quality, liquid assets. Assets under management at prime institutional money market funds that proved susceptible to runs in the crisis have decreased substantially. And the ability of regulators to resolve a large institution has improved, reflecting both new authorities and tangible steps taken by institutions to adjust their organizational and capital structure in a manner that enhances their resolvability and significantly reduces the problem of too-big-to-fail."

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