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US Federal Reserve slashes key interest rate, rolls out massive response to pandemic
FILE - In this Friday, March 13, 2020, file photo, a trader walks on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange during President Donald Trump's televised speech from the White House, in New York. Stock markets are set for another week of turbulent trading as U.S. index futures fell sharply after the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates and more companies and governments took action over the weekend to shut down European and American society. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

US Federal Reserve slashes key interest rate, rolls out massive response to pandemic

ISLAMABAD: Faced with a growing economic shutdown from the coronavirus pandemic, that could cause the US economy to contract, the US Federal Reserve on Sunday announced drastic emergency measures to shore up confidence and keep the financial sector running, including slashing the key interest rate to virtually zero.

The Fed made its second emergency rate cut in less than two weeks, lowering the benchmark borrowing rate to a range of 0-0.25 per cent, where it was during the 2008 global financial crisis, and pledged to keep it there “until it is confident that the economy has weathered recent events”.

The central bank also announced massive asset purchases, opened its discount-lending windows to banks, making it easier for them to borrow from the Fed and urging them to use it to help businesses and households.

It also removed bank reserve requirements to allow them to use cash backstops to meet unexpected funding needs.

The Fed joined forces with other major central banks to guarantee the global financial system has enough cash to continue to operate.

President Donald Trump, who in the past has repeatedly berated the independent central bank for not acting more aggressively, praised the moves.

“What’s happened with the Fed is phenomenal news,” Trump said at a regular briefing of his coronavirus task force. “I can tell you, I’m very happy.”

The massive show of financial force, coming with more countries are on lockdown due to the spread of the COVID-19 illness, aims to contain the economic fallout as businesses are forced to shut their doors in an already sluggish global economy.

Even with these moves, Powell told reporters “the second quarter will be a weak quarter with probably output declining a bit”.

But “after that it becomes hard to say,” and “it’s going to depend again on the path of the virus,” Powell said in a call with reporters following the emergency meeting of the Fed’s policy setting Federal Open Market Committee.

In joint action coordinated with the European Central Bank, Bank of England, Bank of Japan, Bank of Canada and the Swiss National Bank, the central banks moved to counteract global “dollar funding pressures,” Powell said.

“The swap lines are available standing facilities and serve as an important liquidity backstop to ease strains in global funding markets,” a joint statement from the central banks said.

While the Fed rolled out all of its weapons to support the economy, Powell said fiscal measures from the government will be “critical,” and applauded the measures being considered by Congress. “We hope they will be effective.”

Following its emergency meeting, the Federal Open Market Committee said “the coronavirus outbreak has harmed communities and disrupted economic activity in many countries, including the United States”.

The committee, which had been due to hold a regularly scheduled two-day meeting starting on Tuesday, vowed to “use its tools and act as appropriate to support the economy”.

Powell said the Fed still has some firepower left if the uncertainty is prolonged, but financial markets seemed uncertain: Wall Street plunged in futures trading, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average “mini” index losing more than 1,000 points or 4.5pc, and the S&P 500 and Nasdaq posting similar declines.

Tokyo’s Nikkei stocks index also dropped slightly after opening.