What will steady shaky financial system?
Two keys: Stabilize home values while keeping Wall Street calm, analysts say.
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"I like many aspects of this Barney Frank plan," Mr. Bernstein says, referring to a bill proposed by the US Democratic congressman from Massachusetts. "That's a potentially good way of accelerating price discovery," as well as preventing some foreclosures.Skip to next paragraph
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But others worry that intervention will only slow the housing market correction. "It would be a terrible idea for the government to intervene in the housing market," says Michael Cosgrove, who publishes the EconoClast newsletter in Dallas.
He says that financial markets have already processed much of the bad news. And he says that even if housing prices haven't bottomed out, by later this year "the economy can turn around."
Whether he's right or not, some recent signs are encouraging:
• The vultures are circling, and in some cases starting to buy. Wilbur Ross, a billionaire who has invested in ailing Rust Belt firms, has turned his attention to financial-sector opportunities. He moved this week to buy Option One, a mortgage division of H&R Block.
• Institutions are moving to raise capital as a cushion against potential losses. For example, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, enterprises that underwrite mortgage loans with government oversight, are close to such a step, according to a Reuters report. Their action would help ensure that home loans continue to be made during tough times.
• The collapse of the investment house Bear Stearns over the weekend is good news in one sense. The implosion – caused by a run by worried customers – signals that investors are moving to sift chaff from wheat. In this climate, bad home loans and other financial "toxic waste" will rise to the surface to be purged.
• The federal intervention Sunday to keep Bear Stearns out of bankruptcy is also good news, analysts say. It involved a forced merger of Bear into JPMorgan Chase, not a bailout. The action prevented wider chaos that could have rippled out to the many firms that deal with Bear – and the whole economy.
Some economists say the financial mess is big enough that it will require even more mop-up efforts by bank regulators at insolvent firms.
As the economy worsens, the bad-loan problems are spreading from mortgages to other forms of credit, for one thing.
The better the economy does, the smaller the cleanup.
In interviews Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson noted that rebate checks for taxpayers – part of an economic stimulus package – will arrive starting May 2. "We need to keep our capital markets stable, functioning well," Mr. Paulson told NBC.