March 17 (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Reserve on Tuesday said it would relaunch financial crisis-era purchases of short-term corporate debt to thaw credit markets strained by an escalating public health emergency that has disrupted daily life for millions of Americans and threatens to push the economy into recession.
Under the Commercial Paper Funding Facility, first used in 2008, the central bank will buy short-term corporate debt directly from the companies that issue it.
The Fed said the facility will provide a liquidity backstop to U.S. issuers of commercial paper through a special purpose vehicle that will purchase unsecured and asset-backed commercial paper directly from eligible companies.
The commercial paper market is a key source of short-term funding for a range of businesses, but liquidity has dried up in recent weeks.
“By eliminating much of the risk that eligible issuers will not be able to repay investors by rolling over their maturing commercial paper obligations, this facility should encourage investors to once again engage in term lending in the commercial paper market,” the Fed said in a statement.
“An improved commercial paper market will enhance the ability of businesses to maintain employment and investment as the nation deals with the coronavirus outbreak,” the Fed added.
The U.S. central bank has been forced to take several emergency actions over the past two weeks. It has already slashed interest rates to near zero, pledged hundreds of billions of dollars in asset purchases and injected cash into short-term funding markets, among over moves.
Reporting by Ann Saphir and Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Andrea Ricci