Bernanke calls for new Fed power

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Mr. Dimon questioned whether the Bear Stearns bailout will cost taxpayers anything, contending that his own century-old bank took on most of the company’s $250 billion in contractual credit obligations.

The Fed provided $29 billion in financing for the takeover, and acquired in return some of Bear Stearns’ questionable mortgage assets, which it must resell in the next 10 years to prevent a loss for taxpayers.

The JP Morgan executive contended that banks are bearing the brunt of the crisis and it is homeowners - a estimated quarter to a third of whom he said lied about their incomes or other matters to get loans during the housing bubble - who have gotten off easy.

“American consumers did OK,” he said, with many making money off the housing boom while many of those who lost money are now turning over the keys and letting the banks and investors who purchased their mortgages suffer the losses.

Banks and mortgage brokers have learned some hard lessons, and the credit losses are likely to get worse for many, he said. The most important change that resulted from the crisis was banks going back to their traditional standards requiring at least a 20 percent down payment on mortgage loans.

“There’s a reason” banks required down payments for many decades before the latest housing boom, he said. “We learned that the hard way. We need to write a letter to the next generation” to make sure they don’t make the same mistake, he said.

Mr. Paulson told the forum that many of the expected 2.5 million foreclosures this year are unavoidable because people bought houses they couldn’t afford.

“There is little public policy-makers can - or should - do to compensate for untenable financial decisions,” he said.

The Federal Housing Administration announced an expansion of its Hope Now program for homeowners facing foreclosure that it estimated will enable 100,000 people to stay in their homes through refinancings.

Currently, most mortgages are required to meet standards laid down by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which have been purchasing nearly three-quarters of mortgages made this year.

Regulators said yesterday they would work to ensure that the two mortgage giants are able to keep propping up the housing market, possibly giving them an exemption from strict new accounting rules, which would require them to restrict lending and build up capital.

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