Fed Reveals Bear Stearns Assets It Swallowed in Firm’s Rescue
After months of litigation and political scrutiny, the Federal Reserve yesterday ended a policy of secrecy over its Bear Stearns Cos. bailout.
In a 4:30 p.m. announcement in a week of congressional recess and religious holidays, the central bank released details of securities bought to aid Bear Stearns’s takeover by JPMorgan Chase & Co. Bloomberg News sued the Fed for that information.
The Fed’s vehicle known as Maiden Lane LLC has securities backed by mortgages from lenders including Washington Mutual Inc. and Countrywide Financial Corp., loans that were made with limited borrower documentation. More than $1 billion of them are backed by “jumbo” mortgages written by Thornburg Mortgage Inc., which now carry the lowest investment-grade rating. Jumbo loans were larger than government-sponsored mortgage buyers such as Fannie Mae could finance -- $417,000 at the time.
“The Fed absorbed that risk on its balance sheet and is now seen to be holding problematic, legacy assets,” said Vincent Reinhart, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington who was the central bank’s monetary- affairs director from 2001 to 2007. “There is both an impairment to its balance sheet and its reputation.”
The Bear Stearns deal marked a turning point in the financial crisis for the Fed. By putting taxpayers at risk in financing the rescue, the central bank was engaging in fiscal policy, normally the domain of Congress and the U.S. Treasury, said Marvin Goodfriend, a former Richmond Fed policy adviser who is now an economist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh...
In April 2008, Bloomberg News requested records under the federal Freedom of Information Act from the Fed’s Board of Governors related to JPMorgan’s acquisition of Bear Stearns. The central bank responded that records retained by the New York Fed “were proprietary records of the Reserve Bank, and not Board records subject” to the request, court records show.
Bloomberg filed suit in November 2008 in U.S. District Court in New York, challenging the Fed’s denial, as well as the denial of a separate request made in May 2008, seeking records of four other emergency lending programs.
The district court held that the Fed should release documents related to those four programs, and should search documents held by the New York regional bank to determine whether any of them should be considered records of the board of governors.
The U.S. Court of Appeals on March 19 upheld the district court’s ruling on the lending programs...MORE...LINK