Tuesday, February 5

The Market Cries Uncle (Sam)

From Bloomberg News

With U.S. mortgage foreclosures set to top 1 million this year and home prices falling at the fastest pace since the Great Depression, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. Vice Chairman Thomas Russo says the government must take action to prevent a recession.

``The direction we are heading in isn't a good one,'' Russo said in an interview. ``We need significant fiscal and monetary intervention.''

The worst drop in new home sales on record has turned financial leaders into champions of big government with everyone from Russo to executives at Citigroup Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. supporting public measures to keep the housing market from sinking the economy. It's a change from Wall Street's usual stance that markets work best without government interference.

``Sentiment can change when there's money on the line, even in an industry that up to now has been doctrinally opposed to government having a role in the markets,'' said Thomas Schelling, a Nobel laureate in economics who taught at Harvard University for 30 years.

Wall Street fueled the growth of subprime lending by packaging home loans into securities and marketing them as low- risk investments. As demand rose, lending standards dropped, driving the homeownership rate to an all-time high of 69.2 percent in 2004. The median U.S. home price reached a record $230,200 in July 2006. Last month it was $208,400.


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