By JEANNINE AVERSA
Associated Press Economic Writer (AP:WASHINGTON) The Federal Reserve and six other major central banks from around the world slashed interest rates Wednesday in an attempt to prevent a mushrooming financial crisis from becoming a global economic meltdown.
The Fed reduced its key rate from 2 percent to 1.5 percent. In Europe, which also has been hard hit by the financial crisis, the Bank of England cut its rate by half a point to 4.5 percent and the European Central Bank sliced its rate by half a point to 3.75 percent.
Also cutting rates were the central banks of China, Canada, Sweden, and Switzerland. The Bank of Japan said it strongly supported the actions.
"The recent intensification of the financial crisis has augmented the downside risks to growth," the Fed said in explaining the coordinated action.
The Fed action will reduce borrowing costs almost immediately for U.S. bank customers whose home equity and other floating-rate loans are tied to the prime interest rate. Bank of America, Wells Fargo and other banks cut their prime rate by half a point to 4.5 percent after the Fed announcement.
White House spokesman Tony Fratto welcomed the cooperation among the Fed and other countries' central banks to battle the crisis. "It's important and helpful that central banks are working in a coordinated way to deal with stress in the financial system," Fratto said.
But analysts were cautious about the impact of the central banks' coordinated action.
"At first blush, while this is a big step, it is unlikely to prove sufficient to stem the rot. Additional rate cuts are likely and further measures to inject liquidity and re-capitalize banks are needed," said Marc Chandler, global head of currency strategy at the investment firm Brown Brothers Harriman.
The rate cuts came against a backdrop of increasing anxiety in global financial markets. Investors have been fleeing shares on worries that neither the Fed, nor other central banks, could move fast enough to stop the rising turmoil.
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