New York : The Federal Reserve must reveal documents identifying financial companies that received Fed loans to survive the financial crisis, a federal appeals court ruled on Friday.
A panel of the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said in two separate opinions that such information isn't automatically exempt from requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Cases were brought by News Corporation's Fox News Network and Bloomberg. The two companies sought details about loans that commercial banks and Wall Street firms received and the collateral they put up. The appeals judges had received written arguments on behalf of other news agencies including The Associated Press.
The Fed argued that if it identified banks that drew emergency loans, it could cause a run on those institutions, undermine the loan programmes and potentially hurt the economy.
Lower-court judges were split on the issue.
The Federal Reserve said it is studying Friday's ruling.
"We are reviewing the decision and considering our options for reconsideration or appeal," said Fed spokeswoman Michelle Smith.
The Fed could take the panel's ruling to the full appeals court, whose decision could then be appealed to the US Supreme Court. Until a final ruling, the Fed is not compelled to turn over any documents.
Senator Byron Dorgan who's pressed the Fed to release details about the loan programmes, urged Chairman Ben Bernanke on Friday to "immediately" identify the firms that drew emergency loans and their amounts.
Failing to do so after the court rulings "would be a pretty arrogant thing for the Fed to do", Dorgan said in an interview with The Associated Press.
In the Fox case, a three-judge panel concluded that the documents should be available to review by news organisations and the public. A federal judge had agreed with the Fed that the documents belonged to the Federal Reserve banks and were off limits to the public under the Freedom of Information Act. But on Friday, the appeals court said the Fed must produce all relevant documents.
In the Bloomberg case, the court rejected the Fed's argument that identifying the banks and providing other information would harm them and discourage other distressed banks from seeking the Fed's help. The court said the disclosure requirements under FOIA are up to Congress, not the court, to change
The Fed has been fighting the matter in court and on Capitol Hill.
Lawmakers, picking up on public anger over the Fed's role in bailing out Wall Street, have demanded the Fed be more open about its operations.
Bernanke in late February said the Fed would support legislation to identify companies that used the Fed's special lending facilities — "after an appropriate delay".
A delay in identifying the companies would help discourage investors from viewing a company as having financial troubles, he said.
But Bernanke said the confidentiality of banks drawing emergency loans from the Fed's "discount window" must be preserved.