Government intervention during the subprime mortgage crisis

The government interventions during the subprime mortgage crisis were a response to the 2007–2009 subprime mortgage crisis and resulted in a variety of government bailouts that were implemented to stabilize the financial system during late 2007 and early 2008.

Governments intervened in the United States and United Kingdom and several other Western European countries, such as Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. In addition, global reform of the banking industry has been discussed, to reduce speculation. Measures include a supertax on Bankers' bonuses, and a financial transaction tax.


People queuing outside a Northern Rock bank branch in Birmingham, United Kingdom on September 15, 2007, to withdraw their savings because of the subprime crisis.
  • Northern Rock, encountering difficulty obtaining the credit it required to remain in business, was nationalised on 17 February 2008. As of 8 October 2008, United Kingdom taxpayer liability arising from this takeover had risen to £87 billion ($150 billion).[1] The remaining bad bank was merged with Bradford & Bingley and is now NRAM plc. As of October 2014 around £44 billion in loans remain outstanding.[2]
  • Bear Stearns was acquired by J.P. Morgan Chase in March 2008 for $1.2 billion.[3] The sale was conditional on the Fed's lending Bear Sterns US$29 billion on a nonrecourse basis.[4]
  • IndyMac Bank, America's leading Alt-A originator in 2006[5] with approximately $32 billion in deposits was placed into conservatorship by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) on July 11, 2008, citing liquidity concerns. A bridge bank, IndyMac Federal Bank, FSB, was established under the control of the FDIC.[6]
  • The GSEs Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were both placed in conservatorship in September 2008.[7] The two GSE's guarantee or hold mortgage-backed securities(MBS), mortgages and other debt with a Notional value of more than $5 trillion.[8]
  • Merrill Lynch was acquired by Bank of America in September 2008 for $50 billion.[9]
  • Scottish banking group HBOS agreed on 17 September 2008 to an emergency acquisition by its UK rival Lloyds TSB, after a major decline in HBOS's share price stemming from growing fears about its exposure to British and American MBSs. The UK government made this takeover possible by agreeing to waive its competition rules.[10]
  • Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy on 15 September 2008, after the Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson, citing moral hazard, refused to bail it out.[11][12]
  • AIG received an $85 billion emergency loan in September 2008 from the Federal Reserve.[13] which AIG is expected to repay by gradually selling off its assets.[14] In exchange, the federal government acquired a 79.9% equity stake in AIG.[14] AIG may eventually cost U.S. taxpayers nearly $250 billion, due to its critical position insuring the toxic assets of many large international financial institutions through credit default swaps.[15]
  • Washington Mutual (WaMu) was seized in September 2008 by the USA Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS).[16] Most of WaMu's untroubled assets were to be sold to J.P. Morgan Chase.[17]
  • British bank Bradford & Bingley was nationalised on 29 September 2008 by the UK government. The government assumed control of the bank's £50 billion mortgage and loan portfolio, while its deposit and branch network are to be sold to Spain's Grupo Santander.[18]
  • In October 2008, the Australian government announced that it would make A$4 billion available to nonbank lenders unable to issue new loans. After discussion with the industry, this amount was increased to A$8 billion.
  • In November 2008, the U.S. government announced it was purchasing $27 billion of preferred stock in Citigroup, a USA bank with over $2 trillion in assets, and warrants on 4.5% of its common stock. The preferred stock carries an 8% dividend. This purchase follows an earlier purchase of $25 billion of the same preferred stock using Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds.[19]

United KingdomEdit

Northern RockEdit

Northern Rock had difficulty finding finance to keep the business going and approached the Bank of England as lender of the last resort on the 12 September 2007. This caused mass concern about the bank's future. The Bank of England and the UK Government both insisted that the bank was secure and would not collapse. However this failed to stop thousands of customers withdrawing around £1billion from their savings. Northern Rock's share price plummeted and intense pressure from the media, political opposition parties and customers of Northern Rock, forced the Government to nationalize it on 17 February 2008 (see Nationalisation of Northern Rock).

Bank rescue packageEdit

Banks that are short of capital can ask to be rescued. The government has used tax payer's money to buy shares in the banks, making them part nationalised. Banks who take the rescue packages may have restrictions on executive pay and dividends to existing shareholders.

Bonus SupertaxEdit

In December 2009, the United Kingdom announced a supertax on banking bonuses, in order to reduce the risk of further crises in the banking sector.[20]

United StatesEdit

Bear StearnsEdit

On March 16, 2008, J.P. Morgan Chase announced that it would buy Bear Stearns for $500 million or $2 a share;[21] those same shares a year earlier were trading at around $150.[22] Later, on March 24, 2008 J.P. Morgan Chase increased the offer to $1.2 billion or $10 a share[23] and five days later the acquisition was approved.[24] In order for the deal to go through J.P. Morgan Chase required[25] the Fed to issue a nonrecourse loan of $29 billion to Bear Stearns.[26][27] This means that the loan is collateralized by mortgage debt[28] and that the government can't go after J.P. Morgan Chase's assets if the mortgage debt collateral becomes insufficient to repay the loan.[28][29]

The bailout was taken in part to avoid a potential fire sale of nearly U.S. $210 billion of Bear Stearns' MBS and other assets, which could have caused further devaluation in similar securities across the banking system.[30][31] Chairman of the Fed, Ben Bernanke, defended the bailout by stating that a Bear Stearns' bankruptcy would have affected the real economy[32] and could have caused a "chaotic unwinding" of investments across the US markets.[33]

Independent National Mortgage Corporation (IndyMac)Edit

Before its failure, the Independent National Mortgage Corporation (Indymac) was the largest savings and loan association in the Los Angeles area and the seventh largest mortgage originator in the United States.[34] The failure of IndyMac Bank on July 11, 2008, was the fourth largest bank failure in United States history,[35] and the second largest failure of a regulated thrift.[36] IndyMac Bank's parent corporation was IndyMac Bancorp until the FDIC seized IndyMac Bank.[37]

Fannie Mae and Freddie MacEdit

Fannie Mae headquarters at 3900 Wisconsin Avenue, NW in Washington, D.C.

The Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac), two large government-sponsored enterprises, are the two largest single mortgage backing entities in the United States. Between the two corporations, they back nearly half of the $12 trillion mortgages outstanding as of 2008.[38] During the mortgage crises, some in the investment community feared the corporations would run out of capital. Both corporations insisted that they were financially solid, with sufficient capital to continue their businesses, but stock prices in both corporations dropped steadily nonetheless.

Given their size and key role in the US housing market, it had long been speculated that the US Government would take action to bolster both companies in such a situation. On 30 July 2008, this speculation became reality when President Bush signed the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. While analysts disagreed on the financial need for such a bailout, the investor confidence provided by an explicit government show of support was likely needed in any case.

On 5 September 2008, the Treasury Department confirmed that both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would be placed into conservatorship[39] with the government taking over management of the pair.

Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch & Co. and AIGEdit

Lehman Brothers and Merrill LynchEdit

On September 15, 2008, a day which has been dubbed Meltdown Monday by some News outlets,[9][10] the 94-year-old Merrill Lynch agreed to be acquired by Bank of America for $50 billion. Also on that day Lehman Brothers, facing a refusal by the federal government to bail it out, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.[11] Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson cited moral hazard as a reason for not bailing out Lehman Brothers.[12]

American International GroupEdit

Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase tried but failed to raise $70 billion to lend AIG.[14] One day later, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found itself forced to bail out insurance giant AIG by providing an emergency credit liquidity facility of up to $85 billion,[13] which will be repaid by selling off assets of the company.[14] After concluding that a disorderly failure of AIG could worsen the current financial and economic crisis,[40] and at the request of AIG, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York intervened, after AIG had demonstrated that it could not obtain financing from any source. The Federal Reserve required a 79.9 percent equity stake as a fee for service and to compensate for the risk of the loan to AIG.[14]

Washington MutualEdit

The Seattle-based bank holding company Washington Mutual declared bankruptcy on September 26, 2008. The 120-year-old company, one of the largest banking institutions in the US West, was driven into bankruptcy by the subprime crises. On the previous day, September 25, 2008, the United States Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) announced that it closed the holding company's primary operating subsidiary, Washington Mutual Savings Bank, and had placed it into the receivership of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The FDIC sold the assets, all deposit accounts, and secured liabilities to JPMorgan Chase, but not unsecured debt or equity obligations.[41] Washington Mutual Savings Bank's closure and receivership is the largest U.S. bank failure in history.[42] Kerry Killinger, the CEO from 1988 to August 2008, had been fired by the board of directors. Virtually all savings and checking account holders were not affected as the accounts were insured by the FDIC during the collapse, and subsequently transferred in whole to JPMorgan Chase. The holding company, Washington Mutual Inc was left without its major asset and equity investment, its former subsidiary Washington Mutual Savings Bank, and filed for bankruptcy the following day, the 26th.

WaMu's collapse is the largest U.S. bank failure in history.[42]


Wachovia Corp., the fourth biggest US bank by assets, agreed on September 29, 2008 to divest all of its banking subsidiaries to CitiGroup in an all-stock transaction, scheduled to be consummated by December 31, 2008. The transaction "open bank" was facilitated by the FDIC and with the concurrence of the United States Department of the Treasury, and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve Bank. The FDIC guaranteed to Citigroup to cover any losses on the Wachovia banking portfolio greater than $42 billion, in exchange for $10 billion in preferred stock.

However, Wachovia was eventually sold to Wells Fargo without government assistance, voiding the Citibank deal.

Emerging plan to bail out financial institutionsEdit

On 19 September 2008, the U.S. government announced a plan to purchase large amounts of illiquid, risky mortgage backed securities from financial institutions,[43] which is estimated to involve at minimum, $700 billion of additional commitments.[44] This plan also included a ban on short-selling of financial stocks.[45] The mortgage market is estimated at $12 trillion[46] with approximately 9.2% of loans either seriously delinquent or in foreclosure through August 2008.[47]


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