WASHINGTON - Rolling out powerful new weapons against the financial meltdown, the Bush administration and the Federal Reserve pledged $800 billion Tuesday to blast through blockades on credit cards, auto loans, mortgages and other borrowing.
Total bailout commitments, loans and pledges of backing neared a staggering $7 trillion.
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who has been criticized for constantly revising the original $700 billion rescue program, said the administration was considering even more changes in its final two months in office.
Reports on the nation’s economic health weren’t getting any better. The Commerce Department said the overall economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, declined at an annual rate of 0.5 percent in the July-September quarter, even worse than the initial 0.3 percent estimated a month ago as consumer spending fell by the largest amount in 28 years.
In Chicago, meanwhile, President-elect Barack Obama named his budget director and said they both will focus on the nation’s soaring budget deficit — but only after economic revival is under way. Paulson stressed that Obama’s transition team was being kept informed of the government’s moves.
Millions of Americans rely on the kinds of loans that were targeted in one of the new programs announced Tuesday.
The Federal Reserve will purchase $200 billion in securities backed by different types of debt including credit card loans, auto loans, student loans and loans to small businesses. That market essentially froze in October. These types of loans as a result have become harder to obtain and have carried higher interest rates
The Fed also announced that it would spend $500 billion to purchase mortgage-backed securities guaranteed by mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and another $100 billion to directly purchase mortgages held by Fannie, Freddie and the Federal Home Loan Banks.
This would greatly expand an initial modest effort announced back in September in which Treasury spent $26 billion to purchase mortgage-backed securities. The current credit crisis was triggered by soaring losses on securities backed by subprime loans.
The announcement of the new programs had an immediate positive impact on credit markets Tuesday, sending demand up and rates lower.
Analysts predicted the program could send mortgage rates down by as much as one-half to a full percentage point in coming months, helping to spur demand in the beleaguered housing market, which is suffering its worst downturn in decades. The programs to buy mortgage-related assets and securities backed by consumer debt have the same aim: to boost demand for those assets. In doing so, the government hopes to lower the costs being charged for consumer loans. That would make loans more available.
“This is one of the key actions we’ve been advocating,” said Charles McMillan, president of the National Association of Realtors, referring to the purchase program for mortgage-backed assets.
The latest federal moves raised U.S. commitments to contain the financial crisis to nearly $7 trillion — though no one thinks the government will actually spend anything like that figure, which would be almost half the nation’s total gross domestic product. The figures include loans that are expected to be repaid, loan authorities to back mortgages, purchases of stock in banks, guarantees to support loans among banks and pledges backing other transactions.