The papers go big with the government making it easier for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to bolster mortgage lending—allowing them to buy $200 billion more of mortgage securities. The New York Times says on C1 that “the companies are being allowed to take billions of dollars that had been used as a reserve against possible further losses and invest that money now in the housing market.”
The Wall Street Journal says on A3 that the “U.S. Puts Faith in Fannie and Freddie” and reports that regulators are preparing to allow the regional Federal Home Loan banks to buy a $160 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities.
The moves could help keep interest rates low for home buyers. Rates on mortgages rise when investors in securities backed by such loans demand a premium to compensate for what they see as growing risks. Aggravating that problem, some financial institutions that hold mortgage securities have been dumping them to raise cash.
The Financial Times says both government-sponsored enterprises promised to raise new capital. That will enable them to buy even more mortgage securities in a bid to break the logjam in the market. The paper quotes analysts as being skeptical that the moves will make much difference.
The NYT goes high in its story with critics saying the moves increase the likelihood of a big government bailout:
“I think it’s very dangerous and it’s a sign that people are very frightened,” said Thomas H. Stanton, an expert on the two companies who teaches a course on credit risk at Johns Hopkins University. “At a time in which finance companies are holding questionable assets and facing losses, regulators typically require more capital, not less.”
But the WSJ on C1 says that the Fed’s latest moves have already eased conditions in the mortgage markets. It notes, however, that may not mean much yet. Quote of the Day:
“There is no such thing as an all-clear siren at the moment,” Mr. Vogel said. “It’s too soon to say, ‘Dismantle your bomb shelter.’”
Stocks yesterday gave back about three-fourths of their big Tuesday gain, with the Dow dropping 293 points (2.3 percent). The WSJ leads its Business & Finance column on A1 with the news and says on C1 that “investors’ euphoria gave way to renewed worries that the broader economy hasn’t yet escaped the dangers of the credit crisis.”
Commodity prices got hammered even worse, with the FT saying gold and oil saw their “biggest daily falls in decades.” Bloomberg says a commodity index is down 9.3 percent since the end of February. (The NYT goes above the fold on A1 with the old, old news that the commodities markets are booming and risky, just as the WSJ says on C1 that the bubble may be popped.)
The FT’s Short View column says stocks may be ripe for a “bear-market rally.”
Bloomberg and the FT report that the big bank says it will lose money this quarter, primarily because of losses this month.
Joseph Lewis wants his money
In Bear Stearns news, Bloomberg and the Journal report that the firm’s biggest shareholder, Joseph Lewis, will seek alternatives to JP Morgan’s $2 a share bailout. You’d seek alternatives, too, if you’d bought $1.3 billion in shares at an average cost of $104 each.
Stock markets are still pricing in the likelihood of somebody else bidding or JP Morgan being forced to up its price, but Bloomberg quotes a Columbia prof effectively saying “Dude, you lost a billion dollars”:
”If he gets others to vote with him he may be able to get some token increase in the price,” said John Coffee, a securities law professor at Columbia University in New York, referring to Lewis. “He’s not going to get a significantly higher bid because no one else can get the Fed’s support and the Fed’s financing.”
The Journal on its Money & Investing cover fronts unsurprising news that some hedge funds made millions by shorting Bear Stearns stock. A page later it says the SEC is investigating an abnormal surge in trading of contracts that bet on sharp price drops in Bear shares shortly before they plunged.
The FT on its cover says a UK regulator’s move to investigate false rumors that one of the country’s big banks is failing is similar to the one announced by the SEC regarding Bear Stearns.
New day on the Street?