Meanwhile, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae grew to own or guarantee about half of the United States’ $12 trillion mortgage market. Congressional leaders pointedly refused to moderate the moral hazard problem of implicit guarantees or otherwise rein in their hyperexpansion, instead pushing them to promote “affordable housing” through expanded purchases of nonprime loans to low income applicants.
The credit that fueled these risky mortgages was provided by the cheap money policy of the Federal Reserve. Following the 2001 recession, Fed chairman Alan Greenspan slashed the federal funds rate from 6.25 to 1.75 percent. It was reduced further in 2002 and 2003, reaching a record low of 1 percent in mid-2003 – where it stayed for a year. This set off what economist Steve Hanke called “the mother of all liquidity cycles and yet another massive demand bubble.”
The Cato Institute
November 18, 2008