WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve late Sunday opened a program to ship U.S. dollars to Europe in a move to head off a broader financial crisis on the continent.
Other central banks, including the Bank of Canada, the Bank of England, the European Central Bank, the Swiss National Bank and the Bank of Japan also are involved in the dollar swap effort.
The move comes after the European Union and International Monetary Fund pledged a nearly $1 trillion defense package for the embattled euro, hoping to calm jittery markets and halt attacks on the eurozone's weakest members. The ECB also jumped into the bond market Sunday night, saying it is ready to buy eurozone bonds to shore up liquidity in "dysfunctional" markets.
The Fed's action reopens a program put in place during the 2008 global financial crisis under which dollars are shipped overseas through the foreign central banks. In turn, these central banks can lend the dollars out to banks in their home countries that are in need of dollar funding to prevent the European crisis from spreading further.
The Fed said action is being taken "in response to the reemergence of strains in U.S. dollar short-term funding markets in Europe," and to prevent the spread of that strain to other markets and financial centers.
A so-called "swap" line with the Bank of Canada provides up to $30 billion. Figures weren't provided for the other central banks. The arrangements are authorized through January 2011.
The debt crisis first erupted in Greece. Fears that it could spread to Spain, Portugal and other eurozone countries. The crisis has pushed up demand for the U.S. dollar and has sharply weakened the value of the euro, the currency used by 16 European countries. Eurozone ministers and the IMF this weekend approved a $140 billion rescue package of loans to Greece for the next three years to keep it from imploding.
The Fed had wound down these crisis-era programs with other central banks in February, along with other emergency programs to get lending flowing more freely again and return stability to financial markets. At that time, financial strains in the United States were easing, and the Fed began to take steps to move policy closer to normal.
It also had begun to lay out a plan to reel in the unprecedented stimulus money pumped out during the crisis. The Fed's balance sheet ballooned to $2.3 trillion, more than double where it stood before the crisis struck. The program reopened on Sunday will expand the Fed's balance sheet, economists say. However, the program poses little credit risk to the Fed because the arrangements are with other central banks, they added.