Canada's major banks were among numerous financial institutions across the globe which accessed funding from the U.S. Federal Reserve as part of its efforts to stave off economic collapse.
Among the thousands of transactions revealed by the Fed on Wednesday were a number involving Canadian banks, which took advantage of one program to borrow roughly $111-billion (U.S.) through their operations in the U.S.
Obliged to disclose the information under a new financial-reform law, the Fed provided an unprecedented look Wednesday inside a host of programs it used starting in 2007 to shore up a tottering U.S. banking system. The records show in stark terms how the Fed acted as a lender of last resort to a variety of players in the U.S. and beyond, extending low-cost loans and other sources of funding in a desperate effort to get financial markets functioning again.
Five Canadian banks – Bank of Montreal, Bank of Nova Scotia, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Royal Bank of Canada, and Toronto-Dominion Bank – tapped into Fed loans through their U.S. units.
The five banks all borrowed money through a program known as the Term Auction Facility, which was created in late 2007 so banks could access Fed funding without the stigma attached to its traditional avenue for lending, known as the discount window.
Canada was far from the only country whose institutions tapped the program. Banks from Japan, Germany, South Korea, Israel, and Brazil also utilized the loans, which the Fed said were given to institutions in "generally sound financial condition."
In exchange for the loans, the banks posted a broad range of collateral, from U.S. Treasury bonds to commercial real estate loans to mortgage-backed securities. All the loans made under the program were repaid in full, with interest, the Fed noted, and it wrapped up the facility in the spring of this year.
Canadian banks said the moves to seek loans from the Fed were dictated by strategy and not by necessity.
RBC accessed funding from the Fed "purely for business reasons – better pricing and collateral rules – and because they were the best deal for our shareholders at the time," said Gillian McArdle, a bank spokesperson. "Our access to funding remained very strong through the entire crisis."
Ms. McArdle later added a clarification, noting that "banks were generally encouraged to use these facilities by the Fed" to help kick-start lending in the economy.
For TD, participating in the Fed program was a chance to supplement our "already strong liquidity reserves and to do so in an economical way," said Matthew Fortier, a spokesperson.
RBC borrowed the most of any Canadian institution, drawing on $43.6-billion in 2008 and 2009. The loans were made partly to its RBC Bank unit, which is headquartered in North Carolina, but the lion's share went to the Royal Bank of Canada operation in New York.
The Bank of Nova Scotia and TD were next on the list, borrowing $27.7 billion and $27.5 billion respectively. A Scotiabank spokesperson noted the program provided "cost-effective funding."
Bank of Montreal, which received loans of $6.8-billion under the facility, said its borrowing amounted to "testing and maintenance," as demonstrated by the fact that it accessed the program "for short periods and [in] modest amounts," according to a spokesperson.
A few Canadian institutions also participated in other Fed programs, including one set up to ease the blockage in the market for commercial paper, which are short-term borrowings critical to the finances of many companies. Both BMO and Scotiabank sold commercial paper to the Fed in October of 2008.
A representative for CIBC didn't respond to a request for comment.