The Federal Reserve Board and five other central banks in North America and Europe announced Wednesday they've lowered their policy interest rates to avert a looming global financial meltdown.

The Federal Open Market Committee lowered the federal funds rate by 50 basis points. to 1.5%. This is the rate used by banks to lend to each other. The Fed also cut the discount rate for direct borrowings by 50 basis points, to 1.75%. The Fed said it made these moves due to a weakening of economic activity and a reduction in inflationary pressures.

Elsewhere, the Bank of Canada, the Bank of England, the European Central Bank, Sveriges Riksbank, and the Swiss National Bank all cut their interest rates. The Bank of Japan expressed its strong support of these policy actions but left its rates intact, saying in a statement that its rates "are very low and the monetary conditions remain accommodative."