- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Federal Reserve is refusing to identify the recipients of almost $2 trillion of emergency loans from American taxpayers or the troubled assets the central bank is accepting as collateral.

Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. said in September that they would comply with congressional demands for transparency in a $700 billion bailout of the banking system. Two months later, as the Fed lends far more than that in separate rescue programs that didn’t require approval by Congress, Americans have no idea where their money is going or what securities the banks are pledging in return.

“The collateral is not being adequately disclosed, and that’s a big problem,” said Dan Fuss, vice chairman of Boston-based Loomis Sayles & Co., where he co-manages $17 billion in bonds. “In a liquid market, this wouldn’t matter, but we’re not. The market is very nervous and very thin.”

Bloomberg News has requested details of the Fed lending under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act and filed a federal lawsuit Friday seeking to force disclosure.

The Fed made the loans under terms of 11 programs, eight of them created in the past 15 months, in the midst of the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression.

“It’s your money; it’s not the Fed’s money,” said billionaire Ted Forstmann, senior partner of Forstmann Little & Co. in New York. “Of course there should be transparency.”

Federal Reserve spokeswoman Michelle Smith declined to comment on the loans or the Bloomberg lawsuit. Treasury spokeswoman Michele Davis didn’t respond to a phone call and an e-mail seeking comment.

The Fed’s lending is significant because the central bank has stepped into a rescue role that was also the purpose of the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, bailout plan - without safeguards put into the TARP legislation by Congress.

Total Fed lending topped $2 trillion for the first time last week and has risen by $1.172 trillion in the seven weeks since Fed governors relaxed the collateral standards on Sept. 14.

Banks oppose any release of information because it might signal weakness and spur short-selling or a run by depositors, said Scott Talbott, senior vice president of government affairs for the Financial Services Roundtable, a Washington trade group.

“You have to balance the need for transparency with protecting the public interest,” Mr. Talbott said. “Taxpayers have a right to know where their tax dollars are going, but one piece of information standing alone could undermine public confidence in the system.”

The nation’s biggest banks - Citigroup, Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo & Co., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley - declined to comment on whether they have borrowed money from the Fed.

They received $120 billion in capital from the TARP, which was signed into law Oct. 3.

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