By Phil Kuntz and Bob Ivry – Dec 22, 2011 9:01 PM PT

Dec. 7 (Bloomberg) — Matthew Winkler, editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News, talks about Bloomberg News’ response to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s letter to four senior lawmakers yesterday that said recent news articles about the central bank’s emergency lending programs contained “egregious errors.” Winkler speaks with Tom Keene on Bloomberg Television’s “Surveillance Midday.” (Source: Bloomberg)

Bloomberg News today released spreadsheets showing daily borrowing totals for 407 banks and companies that tapped Federal Reserve emergency programs during the 2007 to 2009 financial crisis. It’s the first time such data have been publicly available in this form

To download a zip file of the spreadsheets, go to http://bit.ly/Bloomberg-Fed-Data. For an explanation of the files, see the one labeled “1a Fed Data Roadmap.”

The day-by-day, bank-by-bank numbers, culled from about 50,000 transactions the U.S. central bank made through seven facilities, formed the basis of a series of Bloomberg News articles this year about the largest financial bailout in history.

“Scholars can now examine the data and continue the analysis of the Fed’s crisis management,” said Allan H. Meltzer, a professor of political economy at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and the author of three books on the history of the U.S. central bank.

The data reflect lending from the Asset-Backed Commercial Paper Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility, the Commercial Paper Funding Facility, the Primary Dealer Credit Facility, the Term Auction Facility, the Term Securities Lending Facility, the discount window and single-tranche open market operations, or ST OMO.

Bloomberg News obtained information about the discount window and ST OMO through the Freedom of Information Act. While the Fed initially rejected a request for discount-window information, Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, filed a federal lawsuit to force disclosure and won in the lower courts. In March, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to intervene in the case, and the Fed released more than 29,000 pages of transaction data.

Additional Data

The Fed later supplied additional data to fill in gaps in its initial response. Bloomberg News is updating an interactive graphic it first published in August to add the new information.

Congress required the Fed to post data to its website in December 2010 on six broad-based programs, its assistance to Bear Stearns Cos. and American International Group Inc. (AIG) and more general information on its mortgage-backed securities purchases and so-called foreign-currency liquidity swaps. Those data were presented in spreadsheets that made it difficult to gauge how much individual banks were borrowing from the various programs on any given day.

Some reported totals from media outlets and government studies varied widely. In connection with today’s release, here’s a by-the-numbers explanation of the variations:

$1.2 trillion — The Fed’s actual lending to banks and financial companies at its single-day peak, Dec. 5, 2008, through the seven programs Bloomberg News studied in depth.

Emergency measures that targeted specific companies — Bear Stearns, AIG, Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp. — were excluded from Bloomberg’s analysis because they were previously disclosed. Loans to these companies from the other seven programs were included.

Bloomberg excluded foreign-currency liquidity swaps because names of commercial banks that borrowed under the program haven’t been disclosed to the public.

$1.5 trillion — The Fed’s own number to represent its peak lending. This amount included the foreign-currency liquidity swaps, according to the Fed website. Under the swap lines, the Fed lends dollars to foreign central banks, which in turn lend the money to local banks. Only the names of central banks involved in the transactions have been made public.

The Fed’s tally of peak lending differed from Bloomberg’s in other ways, too. It included the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, or TALF, which Bloomberg excluded. That program’s borrowers were investors rather than banks. Also, the Fed didn’t include ST OMO. Bloomberg did, based on a March 7, 2008, news release in which Fed officials said they would use the program “to address heightened liquidity pressures in term funding markets.”

$7.77 trillion — The amount the Fed pledged to rescue the financial industry, according to Bloomberg research that examined announced, implied or actual upper limits on lending and guarantees. This number, which represents potential commitments, not money out the door, was first published in March 2009, when it peaked.

“One of the keys to understanding why we’ve avoided another Great Depression, so far, is to see how bold the Fed was in 2008 and 2009,” said Niall Ferguson, a Harvard University history professor. “That boldness consisted of a range of contingency commitments that backstopped the banking system. Just because they weren’t used doesn’t mean they weren’t important.”

After Bloomberg included the $7.77 trillion figure in a Nov. 28, 2011, story, some media outlets mischaracterized it as the Fed’s actual lending. The Fed, in a Dec. 6 memo accompanying a letter Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke wrote to lawmakers, called those mischaracterizations “wildly inaccurate.”

$6.8 trillion — The potential amount the Fed might have lent if “all eligible program applicants request assistance at once to the maximum permitted under the program guidelines,” according to a July 21, 2009, report by the Treasury Department’s Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP.

In that report, the officials monitoring the Treasury Department’s $700 billion bailout fund attempted to determine the Fed’s “total potential support” related to the financial crisis.

Most of the difference between the TARP watchdog’s tally and Bloomberg’s involves one program, TALF. The inspector general attributed its $900 billion capacity to the Treasury, which was guaranteeing some of its lending. Bloomberg grouped TALF with the Fed, which created the program.

$16 trillion — The “total transaction amounts” for Fed lending included in a July 21, 2011, study by the Government Accountability Office, a non-partisan investigative agency that reports to Congress. The Fed’s Dec. 6 memo said it was inaccurate to describe that amount as the total of its lending and guarantees, as some websites did.

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