Some economists are challenging the widespread perception that the financial crisis has cut off credit for a wide swath of consumers and nonfinancial companies.
In a working paper circulated this week, V.V. Chari, Lawrence Christiano, and Patrick J. Kehoe of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis wrote that certain "widely held claims about the nature of the crisis and the associated spillovers to the rest of the economy" are proven "false" by data from the Federal Reserve Board and other sources.
According to the economists, the "myths" include the idea that bank lending to nonfinancial companies and consumers has sharply declined; the idea that interbank lending is nonexistent; the idea that commercial paper issued by nonfinancial companies has sharply declined; and the idea that rates on such paper have risen to unprecedented levels.
Mr. Kehoe said in an interview Thursday that the paper was written as a call for more analysis from policymakers before implementing bailout policies. There should be "more of a spirit of caution and a need for better data analysis before we spend nearly a trillion dollars."
The nonfinancial sector of the economy has not experienced an outsized effect from the predicament of financial institutions, he said. "If we're going to spend all this money, it would be nice to see the rationale spelled out in detail."
He does not dispute "that there's a financial crisis," but no one has proven "the part that links the financial crisis to drastic problems for the nonfinancial sector over and above those caused by the natural recession."
For example, in their paper Mr. Kehoe and his colleagues looked at Bloomberg data as of Oct. 21 and found that three-month borrowing costs for firms with triple-A ratings are lower than they were at the beginning of the year, though they have risen sharply in response to events like the Lehman Brothers failure.
Similarly, from looking at Fed data as of Oct. 8, the Minneapolis Fed researchers found interbank lending has fallen since last month but is still slightly above its January level. Financial firms' outstanding commercial paper has dropped sharply since the beginning of last month, but the supply stayed level for nonfinancial firms, according to the paper. (In addition to working for the Minneapolis Fed, Mr. Chari and Mr. Kehoe are professors at the University of Minnesota and Mr. Christiano at Northwestern University. Mr. Kehoe also works for the National Bureau of Economic Research.)
Other observers agreed that more scrutiny and skepticism is needed about the extent of the credit squeeze. "It's about time somebody said this," said Joseph Mason, an associate professor of finance at Louisiana State University and a former economist at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. "Many economists are looking at current policy right now and asking what the point is" of some government measures.
James Chessen, the chief economist at the American Bankers Association, said the working paper "confirms what a lot of healthy banks have been saying — that they have the capital and resources to continue making loans."
Richard K. Davis, the CEO of U.S. Bancorp, said on an earnings call Tuesday that fears about credit scarcity "might be a bit overrated, to the extent that there's a lot of money and a lot of banks like ours that make loans to small businesses and to consumers and to middle-market companies, that they are performing well, and they were prepared for this downturn."
At U.S. Bancorp, "we are making loans to everybody who qualifies," Mr. Davis said. "Even on a large syndicated basis, I haven't come across customers that have been unable to find enough large banks to take care of their needs."
Mr. Kehoe said that an early version of the paper circulated at the beginning of this week was "a little more aggressive," and that a "slightly more guarded" and more polished version was published Thursday.
Adam Levitin, an associate professor at Georgetown University Law Center, wrote in a blog post Wednesday, "A lot of the evidence for systemic disruptions was anecdotal." Such evidence "hardly shows that banks aren't willing to lend because of fears of other banks' insolvency," he wrote. "It just shows a sensible caution given that many formerly creditworthy consumer borrowers are now underwater on their houses."