Federal Reserve, Treasury take steps to boost lending

The US Federal Reserve and Treasury Department on Tuesday announced two new programmes that will pump an additional 800 billion dollars into the struggling economy and unfreeze credit for consumers and small businesses, dpa reported.

This second stimulus follows the 700-billion-dollar rescue package already approved by Congress. Under one of the two new programmes, the Fed will use 600 billion dollars to buy mortgage-backed securities to reduce the cost of home mortgages.

The other programme, the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF), by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, will create a lending facility worth 200 billion dollars to holders of securities backed by consumer debt - credit card, student and auto loans. This will essentially make it easier for consumers to borrow money.

The New York Fed is headed by Timothy Geithner, named Monday by president-elect Barack Obama as his Treasury secretary. Geithner will be tasked with rescuing the financial industry from its worst crisis since the Great Depression when the new administration takes over on January 20.

The Treasury Department said it would provide 20 billion dollars of credit protection to the New York Fed for TALF, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson told a news conference Tuesday.

Consumer asset-backed securities (ABS) worth 240 billion dollars were issued in 2007. But the widening financial crisis this year ensured that banks and financial institutions have been reluctant to lend, with credit markets essentially coming to a halt in October.

"As a result, millions of Americans cannot find affordable financing for their basic credit needs. And credit card rates are climbing, making it more expensive for families to finance everyday purchases," Paulson said.

The lack of affordable consumer credit undermines spending and weakens the economy, he said.

Paulson's announcement came as the Commerce Department presented more bad economic news. The Gross Domestic Product for the US in the third quarter shrunk at an annualized rate of 0.5 per cent - the worst in seven years.

"Today's GDP report reaffirms the serious challenges in our economy," Commerce Secretary Carlos M Gutierrez said. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the third quarter figures show the need for swift government steps to prevent further damage.

"The numbers are what they are, which is they're troubling, and this is why we are having to act and take such bold actions that we are taking," she said.

Other economic news on Tuesday showed consumer confidence rose slightly in November from an all-time low a month earlier. The independent Conference Board's index rose to 44.9 up from 38.8 in October.

In the newly-outlined programme for the ailing housing market, the nation's central bank will buy up to 500 billion dollars in mortgage- backed securities, which have been backed by government-sponsored mortgage finance firms Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Ginnie Mae. The Fed will buy an additional 100 billion dollars of direct debt obligations of these firms.

"This action is being taken to reduce the cost and increase the availability of credit for the purchase of houses, which in turn should support housing markets and foster improved conditions in financial markets more generally," the Fed said in a statement.

"Nothing is more important to getting through this housing correction than the availability of affordable mortgage finance," Paulson said.

"It will take time to work through the difficulties in our market and our economy, and new challenges will continue to arise," Paulson said, adding that the government was committed to stabilizing the financial markets and minimizing the spillover to the rest of the economy.

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