"[Policymakers] should be steady when financial market participants are fearful, and fearful when markets appear steady." Governor Kevin Warsh, Nov 6, 2008
Yes, the Fed was not properly fearful when markets appeared steady. As Paul Volcker said in Feb 2005:
"Under the placid surface, at least the way I see it, there are really disturbing trends: huge imbalances, disequilibria, risks – call them what you will. Altogether the circumstances seem to me as dangerous and intractable as any I can remember, and I can remember quite a lot."
There are some notable signs of improvement. Short-term funding spreads are retreating from extremely elevated levels. Funding maturities are being extended beyond the very near term. Money market funds and commercial paper markets are showing signs of stabilization. And credit default swap spreads of banking institutions are narrowing significantly.
Nonetheless, financial markets overall remain strained. Risk spreads remain quite high and lending standards appear strict. Indications of economic activity in the United States have turned decidedly negative. The economy contracted slightly in the third quarter, and the recent data on sales and production suggest that the fourth quarter will be weak.
Still, the depth and duration of this period of weak economic activity remain highly uncertain.
And on the causes of the credit crisis, Warsh argues it is not just housing and definitely not contained:
Many observers maintain that the boom and bust in the housing market are the root cause of the current turmoil. No doubt housing-related losses are negatively affecting household wealth and spending. Moreover, the weakness in housing markets and uncertainty about its path have caused financial institution balance sheets to deteriorate. This situation has further accelerated the deleveraging process and tightened credit conditions for businesses and households.
When liquidity pulled back dramatically in August 2007, housing suffered mightily. ...
While housing may well have been the trigger for the onset of the broader financial turmoil, I have long believed it is not the fundamental cause. Indeed, recent financial market developments strongly indicate that housing, as an asset class, does not stand alone. Indeed, the problems associated with housing finance reveal broader failings, including inadequate market discipline, excessive reliance on credit ratings, and poor credit and liquidity risk-management practices by many financial firms.
During the past several months, this domestic housing-centric diagnosis has also been subjected to a natural experiment. Among U.S. financial institutions, asset quality concerns are no longer confined to the mortgage sector. At the same time, non-U.S. financial institutions--including some with relatively modest exposures to the United States or their own domestic housing markets--appear to be suffering substantial losses. Equity prices of European banks declined more on average during 2008 year-to-date than their U.S. counterparts. Moreover, economic weakness among our advanced foreign trading partners is increasingly evident, even among economies with more modest exposures to the housing sector.
... I would advance the following: We are witnessing a fundamental reassessment of the value of virtually every asset everywhere in the world.