Page last updated at 15:25 GMT, Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Bank of England lent banks 185bn

Bank of England insignia
The SLS operated between April 2008 and January 2009

The Bank of England has announced that it has lent 185bn to financial institutions since April under its special liquidity scheme (SLS).

The SLS was set up to allow banks to temporarily swap assets that were difficult to trade, such as mortgage-backed debt, for UK Treasury Bills.

Banks were able to make the exchanges until 30 January.

The Federal Reserve has also recognised "substantial strains" on the system and is extending its liquidity scheme.

Asset switch

The Bank of England said that 32 banks and building societies took part in the scheme.

The idea of the SLS was to help encourage banks to resume normal lending practices by reducing the uncertainty that having illiquid assets on balance sheets was creating.

The figures demonstrate quite how serious it was that the commercial market for mortgage-backed securities had collapsed
Robert Peston

It was set up in April 2008 and was originally intended to last for six months, but it was extended during the financial turbulence of the autumn.

Under the plan, banks could exchange their illiquid assets for more secure and easily-traded government debt, which they could hold for up to three years.

But it only applied to assets, such as mortgage-backed securities, held by the banks before 31 December 2007.

In total, the Bank of England received assets from the banks valued at 287bn.

BBC business editor Robert Peston says the figures demonstrate "quite how serious it was that the commercial market for mortgage-backed securities had collapsed, and quite how desperate the banks were to raise cash".

New scheme

The Bank conceded however that financing conditions were still difficult and so fresh measures have been put in place.

One of the measures is the new Discount Window Facility, unveiled in October, which will allow banks and building societies to borrow money using a wider range of collateral than the SLS.

In January, the Bank of England extended the length of time that banks could borrow under the new scheme from 30 days to 364 days "in recognition of the continued stress in financial markets".

The government, which also provided guarantees to the banking sector, is reportedly considering additional lending measures to boost mortgage lending.

US scheme

In the US, the Federal Reserve has announced that its own liquidity schemes, that were due to expire on 30 April, will be extended until 30 October.

The central bank said it had done so, "in light of continuing substantial strains in many financial markets".

The Federal Reserve is also extending its currency swap arrangements with a long list of other central banks, including the Bank of England.

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