9/24/2008

The financial crisis: The price of stability

America's Treasury asks Congress for $700 billion to stabilise the markets

UNTIL this week America's authorities clung to the hope that they could tide over the financial system with a few loans until home prices stabilised and all the bad debts were accounted for. But the destruction visited on Wall Street in the past week has dashed those aspirations and forced policymakers to consider a more sweeping response. The bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and AIG’s federal takeover have triggered a wholesale flight to safety that could turn illiquid institutions insolvent. Healthy corporations can no longer issue bonds. Banks can barely borrow from each other.

The federal government, having lent hundreds of billions of dollars to banks and investment banks and AIG, now thinks it must put permanent capital into the financial system to restore confidence and stop the vicious spiral. Hank Paulson, the treasury secretary, and Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, met Congressional leaders towards the end of the week. And on Saturday September 20th Mr Paulson sent a preliminary plan under which the federal government would be authorised to purchase up to $700 billion of "residential or commercial mortgages and any securities, obligations, or other instruments that are based on or related to such mortgages" originated or issued on or before Wednesday. It could buy them from any financial institution headquartered in the United States. ...



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[Source: The Economist: News analysis

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