How much of what has happened in the housing market is Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s fault?
Not much, according to CNBC “Closing Bell” host Maria Bartiromo. Bartiromo and CNBC “Street Signs” host Erin Burnett were the featured guests on NBC’s March 23 “Meet the Press.”
“Meet the Press” host Tim Russert asked Burnett and Bartiromo if Bernanke was “up to the task” to take on problems with the U.S. economy. Bartiromo didn’t blame the Fed chief for the current economic environment, but defended Bernanke and said the foundation of the housing problems was in place prior to his tenure.
“I really don’t think you can blame Ben Bernanke for this, Tim,” Bartiromo said. “You know, I think that he is, as Erin said, throwing the kitchen sink, doing a lot at this point. And remember, he’s a new chairman. You know, so what was put in place before he was actually in this role has set us up for this.”
What was “put in place” prior to Bernanke came under the watch of Alan Greenspan, who served as the Federal Reserve Chairman from 1987 to 2006. Following the economic downturn connected to the dot-com bubble and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Greenspan slashed interest rates all the way down to 1 percent on June 25, 2003.
Greenspan began to raise rates beginning in June 2004. In February 2004, Greenspan suggested subprime adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs), which have been at the root of the current housing crisis, might be “a good deal,” according to a June 23, 2004, USA Today article written by Sue Kirchhoff and Barbara Hagenbaugh.
“He said a Fed study suggested many homeowners could have saved tens of thousands of dollars in the last decade if they had ARMs,” Kirchhoff and Hagenbaugh wrote. “Those savings would not have been realized, however, had interest rates shot up.”
“American consumers might benefit if lenders provided greater mortgage product alternatives to the traditional fixed-rate mortgage,” Greenspan said at a speech to a Credit Union National Association meeting, according to the article.
The article even included comments from Joseph McKenzie, deputy chief economist at the Federal Housing Finance Board in 2003, who said, “There are lots of innovative programs, especially targeting low-income and first-time buyers.”
Bartiromo gave Bernanke’s job performance an overall positive assessment and said he was doing a lot to tackle current economic troubles.
“I actually think he’s doing a good job,” Bartiromo added. “And sure, you know, maybe they needed to watch to see how steep things really got before they actually got very aggressive. But, they’re certainly aggressive now.”