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The F.A.Q.’s of Lehman and A.I.G.
By Douglas W. Diamond and Anil K. Kashyap
For most of the last 20 years we have been studying banks, monetary policy, and financial crises. So for us the events of the last year have been especially fascinating.
The last 10 days have been the most remarkable period of government intervention into the financial system since the Great Depression. In talking with reporters and our noneconomist friends, we have been besieged with questions about several aspects of these events. Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions with our best answers.
1) What has happened that is so remarkable?
This episode started when the Treasury nationalized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on September 8. Their combined assets are over $5 trillion. These firms help guarantee most of the mortgages in the United States. The Treasury only got authority from Congress to take this action in July, and in seeking the authority had insisted that no intervention would be needed.
The Treasury has replaced the management of both companies and will presumably oversee their operation. This decision marked an acknowledgment by the government that the mortgage market and the institutions to make it operate in the U.S. are broken.
On Monday, the largest bankruptcy filing in U.S. history was made by Lehman Brothers. Lehman had over $600 billion in assets and 25,000 employees. (The largest previous filing was WorldCom, whose assets just prior to bankruptcy were just over $100 billion.)
On Tuesday, the Federal Reserve made a bridge loan to A.I.G., the largest insurance company in the world