News & Current Affairs

September 7, 2008

US lenders ‘face state takeover’

US lenders ‘face state takeover’

Home repossessed in US

US mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are set to be put under government control in an attempt to rescue the firms, media reports say.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson will outline government plans at a news conference at 1100 (1600 BST).

The move to shore up the shareholder-owned firms, which hold or guarantee half the US mortgage debt, would be the US’s largest ever financial bail-out.

In July, Congress approved a plan aimed

at offering them more liquidity.

This followed huge losses by the two firms as result of a big increase in defaults and repossessions in the US housing market.

‘Management told’

On Saturday, a senior politician, Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson had told him the government would use its powers to ensure the continued and stable functioning of the companies.

The Washington Post, quoting senior administration sources, said the firms would be put under a legal status known as “conservatorship” which would greatly reduce the value of the two companies’ common stock.

BBC Business Editor Robert Peston
This is an event of profound significance for the global economy
BBC Business Editor Robert Peston

Other securities – including company debt and preferred shares – would be guaranteed by the government, the paper added.

The New York Times reported that senior executives at Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were informed about the plan on Friday.

The Wall Street Journal said it would include changes in the top management.

There would also be quarterly infusions of cash to keep both firms afloat, the papers say. The total cost to taxpayers is not known but could amount to billions of dollars, they add.

The government was being forced to step in because it was dangerous for the US economy for doubts to persist about the two firms’ viability.

Struggling homeowners

HAVE YOUR SAY

Government control over larger portions of the economy can only end badly

TB, US

The two contenders for the US presidency, Barack Obama and John McCain, have been briefed on the takeover by Mr Paulson.

“We’ve got to keep people in their homes,” said the Republican candidate, John McCain.

“There’s got to be restructuring, there’s got to be reorganisation, and there’s got to be some confidence that we’ve stopped this downward spiral,” he added, saying that the takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac must not benefit executives at the two companies.

The Democratic Party candidate, Barack Obama, said any action should be focused “on whether it will strengthen our economy and help struggling homeowners”.

“We must not allow government intervention to protect investors and speculators who relied on the government to reap massive profits,” he said, adding “we must protect taxpayers, not bail out the shareholders and management of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac”.

Fragile

On Friday, America’s Mortgage Bankers Association reported that at the end of June, about four million homeowners with a mortgage – representing a record 9% – either were behind in their payments or faced repossession.

In the past year, the financial crisis has taken a heavy toll on both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The country’s two largest buyers and backers of mortgages lost a combined $3.1bn between April and June.

Both companies say they have the resources to weather the losses, but their shares have fallen sharply on fears that they could go bankrupt as borrowers default.

The rescue plan passed by Congress in July gave the US government the authority to buy shares and offer liquidity to companies to keep them afloat.

Many analysts believe their collapse would be a major shock to the already fragile global financial system.

Together, the two firms own or guarantee about $5.3 trillion worth of home loans – about half the outstanding mortgages in the US.

That is about 25 times as big as the obligations of Northern Rock – which was nationalised by the UK government earlier this year, and twice the size of the UK economy.

Advertisements

August 28, 2008

US GDP rebounds with 3.3% growth

US GDP rebounds with 3.3% growth

A US shopper

Tax rebates have encouraged consumers to spend more

The US economy grew at a revised 3.3% annually in the second quarter of 2008, the Commerce Department said, much higher than its first estimate of 1.9%.

The rebound was linked to strong US exports, helped by the weak dollar, while government tax rebates also boosted consumer spending.

GDP grew at a rate of 0.9% in the first quarter, after a 0.2% contraction in the last three months of 2007.

The Federal Reserve has warned the economy will remain weak this year.

“While we’re not out of the woods yet, maybe we’re beginning to see some sunlight,” said John Wilson, equity strategist at Morgan Keegan.

“At some point, the market will begin to look through the trough and gauge the strength of the coming upturn.”

‘No recession’

The data showed that exports grew at an annualized rate of 13.2%, higher than the government’s initial estimate of 9.2%.

Imports fell at a rate of 7.6% as the US economic slowdown reduced demands for goods made overseas.

The improved trade balance added 3.1 percentage points to second-quarter GDP, the biggest since 1980.

The slowdown in the housing market was evident, as builders cut back and businesses reduced their spending.

Consumer spending, boosted by the government’s $600 tax rebate payments, rose by 1.7%, slightly higher than the previous quarter’s 1.5%.

Some observers said that the figures lent support to the argument that the US was not heading for a recession.

“For a recession the economy is certainly growing very quickly,” said Avery Shenfeld, senior economist at CIBC World Markets.

“A lot of that growth is driven off exports and pessimists might say that can’t continue during slowing growth overseas.

“But I would say this happened precisely during the period of slowing growth overseas … this is still an economy that faces slow times but not a recession.”

16-year low

However recent data on the US housing market suggests a grim outlook for the sector.

US house prices were down a record 15.4% in the April to June quarter compared with a year ago, according to a closely-watched report released earlier this week.

The decline was recorded by the latest S&P/Case-Shiller survey of US national home prices.

The report said the fact that the falls were nationwide was the latest sign the US housing downturn is continuing.

Separate government data said sales of new homes were at an annual rate of 515,000 units in July, up slightly from June, but still near a 16-year low, and half the rate of new home sales one year ago.

Blog at WordPress.com.