Reposted from Hullabaloo

Fasten Your Seat Belts

by digby

Tomorrow should be an interesting day on Wall Street. JP Morgan just bought Bear Sterns for less than the price of the office building it’s housed in and then the Fed cut interest rates another quarter of a point to try to cushion the blow.

The Fed approved the financing arrangement announced by JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Bear Stearns Cos. JPMorgan separately agreed to buy Bear Stearns for about $2 a share.

Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke is stepping up efforts to keep strains in financial markets from spiraling into a full-blown meltdown. Last week the central bank agreed to emergency loans to a non-bank, Bear Stearns, for the first time since the 1960s. Fed officials also announced a program to swap $200 billion in Treasuries for debt including mortgage-backed securities.

The Fed lowered the discount rate to 3.25 percent from 3.5 percent, narrowing the spread with the federal funds rate to a quarter point from a half point. From tomorrow, primary dealers will be able to borrow at the rate under a new lending facility, to be in place for at least six months, the Fed said.

The actions are “designed to bolster market liquidity and promote orderly market functioning,” the Fed said. “Liquid, well-functioning markets are essential for the promotion of economic growth.”

Investors expect the Fed to lower its benchmark rate by as much as a full percentage point, to 2 percent, when policy makers meet March 18. That would exceed the 0.75-point emergency reduction on Jan. 22, which is the largest cut since the overnight interbank lending rate became the main tool of monetary policy about two decades ago.

Paul Krugman wrote on Friday, before these actions of today:

I’m more concerned that despite the extraordinary scale of Mr. Bernanke’s action — to my knowledge, no advanced-country’s central bank has ever exposed itself to this much market risk — the Fed still won’t manage to get a grip on the economy…

I’m sure that Mr. Bernanke and his colleagues are frantically considering other actions that they can take, but there’s only so much the Fed — whose resources are limited, and whose mandate doesn’t extend to rescuing the whole financial system — can do when faced with what looks increasingly like one of history’s great financial crises.

The next steps will be up to the politicians.

I used to think that the major issues facing the next president would be how to get out of Iraq and what to do about health care. At this point, however, I suspect that the biggest problem for the next administration will be figuring out which parts of the financial system to bail out, how to pay the cleanup bills and how to explain what it’s doing to an angry public.

Like I said. Buckle up.

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