The Fed is taking it to the street. Main Street. The central bank announced yesterday an $800 billion support package in concert with the Treasury aimed at spurring mortgage lending and consumer credit, including car, credit card, and small business loans. The new program amounts to a vast expansion in the scope of the government’s bailout program in order to act directly on specific loan markets.
Of the $800 billion, the Fed will use $600 billion to purchase debt issued or backed by Fannie Mae
You asked for lower rates -- Abracadabra -- you got 'em!
In an efficient market, expectations alone can work magic. The announcement jolted the mortgage market yesterday with the largest rate decline in seven years.
The Fed will use the other $200 billion to provide financing for investors in asset-backed securities tied to student loans, car loans, credit card debt, and small business loans. Facilitating demand for these securities should de-freeze credit in these areas.
Federal Reserve or Federal Excess?
One obvious risk: the Fed’s balance sheet has more than doubled in size in less than six months and now stands at over $2 trillion. That puts it in the same league as banking behemoths Citigroup
It's easy to say that this new effort is simply the government shooting off willy-nilly to cure the crisis. I prefer to give Messrs. Paulson and Bernanke the benefit of the doubt -- these "piecemeal" actions are a sign of flexibility in dealing with a crisis that is unprecedented in our lifetimes.
Nevertheless, I am concerned about the ever-expanding girth of this bailout. Ensuring credit markets are functioning normally is critical, but authorities should take great pains to avoid the mistakes their predecessors made in managing the downturn that followed the 2000 tech stock crash.
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Fool contributor Alex Dumortier, CFA has a beneficial interest in Wells Fargo, but not in any of the other companies mentioned in this article. JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America are Motley Fool Income Investor selections. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.