The global financial meltdown that led to the Great Recession could have been mitigated if the Federal Reserve had “slashed rates more dramatically” at the time, CNBC’s Jim Cramer said, reflecting on his famous 2007 “they know nothing” Fed rant.
Cramer recalled on Thursday, 10 years to the day, that he didn’t plan it.
It was later revealed in the minutes of the Fed’s Aug. 7, 2007, meeting that policymakers had actually laughed at Cramer’s attempt to raise a red flag about the developing subprime housing crisis.
But only a couple years later, then-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said on CNBC in 2009 that Cramer was right. “We were at the beginning of this great panic.”
On Aug 3, 2007, Cramer blasted then-Fed Chair Ben Bernanke and central bankers for their lack of knowledge about the risk that the subprime market posed to the financial system.
Here’s part of what Cramer said a decade ago on CNBC:
I have talked to the heads of almost every one of these firms in the last 72 hours and he has no idea what it’s like out there. None! And Bill Poole, he has no idea what it’s like out there. My people have been in this game for 25 years and they’re losing their jobs and these firms are gonna go out of business and it’s nuts. They’re nuts! They know nothing! This is a different kinda market. And the Fed is asleep. Bill Poole is a shame, he’s shameful!.
Cramer criticized Bill Poole who at the time was president of the St. Louis Fed.
At the time, Poole downplayed the risk of the crisis:
My own bet is that the financial market upset is not going to change fundamentally what’s going on in the real economy. … Bank capital is not impaired. So unlike in some past cases, when losses on real estate impaired bank capital and thus affected the lending in areas that had nothing to do with real estate, I don’t think that’s the case this time.
That is pretty much the opposite of what happened.
Then-Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart, at the Aug. 7, 2007 meeting, actually referred to Cramer’s rant in the course of one of his comments — eliciting laughter from his fellow central bankers.
I believe that the correct policy posture is to let the markets work through the changes in risk appetite and pricing that are under way, but the market observations of one of my more strident conversational counterparts—and that is not Jim Cramer [laughter]—are worth sharing.
The Fed had come under criticism for not recognizing the risk facing the economy and the financial system early on, as investors flocked to bonds, gold and currencies as safer alternatives to the poor housing and stock market.
The S&P 500 closed on Oct. 12, 2007, at 1,561 before cratering more than 50 percent to an intraday low of 666.79 on March 6, 2009. Since then, the S&P has climbed about 270 percent to near record highs as of Wednesday’s close.
In September 2007, central bankers began incrementally cutting the cost of borrowing money and continued until December 2008, when rates bottomed out at a range of zero to 0.25 percent where they stayed until the Fed hiked rates in December 2015.
In December 2008, hoping to boost the economy, Fed officials also embarked on a series of quantitative easing — or bond-buying — programs, which eventually swelled the Fed’s balance sheet to the current $4.5 trillion. Only now is the Fed talking about how to wind that down.
Cramer said on Thursday: “I still felt that if [the Fed] were to slash rates more dramatically that they could have saved things. But instead, they did it very incrementally.”
— CNBC’s Matthew J. Belvedere contributed to this report.