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Markets end strong as Bernanke urges second stimulus

- The Washington Times - Monday, October 20, 2008

UPDATED:

Trading on Wall Street surged Monday, as the Dow Jones shot up 413 points after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke called for an additional federal economic stimulus package --a plan gaining acceptance by the White House.

U.S. stocks were higher in early afternoon trading, and prices for government debt and the dollar also rose. European markets also rose as banks there took advantage of government lifelines and credit markets began to thaw.

The Dow rose 413.21, or 4.67 percent, to 9,265.43. Broader indexes also rose sharply, as the Standard & Poor's 500 index jumped 44.85, or 4.77 percent, to 985.40, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 58.74, or 3.43 percent, to 1,770.03.

Mr. Bernanke told the House Budget Committee Monday morning that with a protracted economic slowdown a likely possibility, another congressional economic stimulus package would be appropriate.

"With the economy likely to be weak for several quarters, and with some risk of a protracted slowdown, consideration of a fiscal package by the Congress at this juncture seems appropriate," Mr. Bernanke said at a House Budget Committee hearing Monday morning.

Mr. Bernanke's comments -- the first time the central bank chairman had explicitly endorsed a second stimulus package --were applauded by Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill.

"Chairman Bernanke added his voice to the chorus of economists, experts and policymakers who insist that America needs a job-creating recovery package to get our economy back on track and to restore consumer and investor confidence," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

Added Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat; "Given the serious economic problems we face, much more must be done to revive our economy and strengthen the middle class."

Democrats have said they would consider including unemployment benefit extensions and other spending measures in a second stimulus package.

But House Republican Leader John A. Boehner cautioned against filling any additional stimulus package with "billions in new government spending masquerading as economic stimulus."

White House Spokeswoman Dana Perino said the Bush administration was "open" to a stimulus plan, depending on its makeup, and would look to Mr. Bernanke and others for guidance.

Meanwhile on Monday,Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson briefed reporters on plans to dole out another $125 billion in taxpayer money to shore up the capital base of U.S. banks and thaw frozen credit markets.

The government last week made the first investment of $125 billion to purchase stakes in nine of the country's biggest banks. The money was part of a $700 billion government rescue program for the financial system that Congress passed on Oct. 3.

Mr. Paulson said the department had already received expressions of interest from a broad cross-section of banks. Interested lenders will have until Nov. 14 to apply and Mr. Paulson said the $125 billion remaining in the program is sufficient to cover all the requests the department expects to receive. But not every bank that applies will get money, he added.

"Let me be clear: this program is not being implemented on a first-come-first-serve basis," he said.

The government hopes that banks accepting the government funds will expand their own lending to businesses and individual borrowers. Some private analysts have questioned whether banks who have strong capital bases will accept the government money and the restrictions on executive pay and dividend payouts that come with it.

Mr. Paulson stressed that the plan has been designed so that healthy banks will want to participate.

"This program is designed to attract broad participation by healthy institutions and do so in a way that attracts private capital to them as well," he said.

Department officials said they would announce transactions under the program within two days, but would not reveal when a bank had been turned down. They said a decision by the government to invest in a bank did not shield the lender from the pressures of the marketplace.

"An investment doesn't say anything about whether a bank will be allowed to fail," a senior regulatory official, speaking on background, told reporters.

President Bush on Monday reiterated his commitment to the program.

"If I felt that the crisis could be contained in Wall Street, then I'd have taken a different course of action," said Mr. Bush during a visit to Alexandria, La. "But the crisis that is gripping this country, and still has a grip on this country."

Meanwhile on Monday, the new chief executives of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are trying do more to stop the home foreclosures hammering the housing market, but said it still might take years for real estate to recover in some cities.

"I don't think there is any magic bullet in regards to overbuilt markets" like Miami and parts of California, Nevada and Arizona, said Freddie Mac CEO David Moffett at the Mortgage Bankers Association's annual convention Monday.

The two companies have applied to manage some of the mortgage assets under the $700 billion government rescue program, a person familiar with the matter said Monday. The person declined to be identified because the companies' bids are not yet public

• David R. Sands contributed to this report, which was based in part on wire service reports.