- The Washington Times - Friday, September 19, 2008

NEW YORK

Wall Street rallied in a stunning late-session turnaround Thursday, shooting higher and hurtling the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 400 points after a report that the federal government might create an entity to absorb banks’ bad debt. The report also cooled investors’ fervor for the safest types of investments, like government debt.

The report that Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. is considering the formation of a vehicle like the Resolution Trust Corp. that was set up during the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s left previously solemn investors ebullient. Wall Street hoped a huge federal intervention could help financial institutions jettison bad mortgage debt and stop the drain on capital that has already taken down companies including Bear Stearns Cos. and Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

Worries about financial landmines on companies’ books have essentially crippled parts of the world’s financial markets in recent days and led to the intense volatility in the markets this week.

“It’s going to take a lot of the bad debt off the balance sheets of these companies,” said Scott Fullman, director of derivatives investment strategy for WJB Capital Group in New York, commenting on the possibilities of an entity akin to the RTC. It could alleviate many of the pressures causing the credit crisis, he said, and reopen moribund credit markets. But Mr. Fullman noted, “The devil’s in the details.

“Bear markets are very sensitive to news. And on a scale of 1 to 10, this one is a 13,” he said.

The report from CNBC gave direction to a market that had bolted in and out of positive territory for much of the session as investors shuttled between the safety of Treasury bills and gold and the bargains posed by stocks that have been pounded lower.

The Dow soared 410.03, or 3.86 percent, to 11,019.69, surging 560 points from its low of the day, 10,459.44. It was the Dow’s biggest percentage point gain since October 2002 but still leaves the index down about 400 points for the week after routs Monday and Wednesday.

Broader stock indicators also jumped. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 50.12, or 4.33 percent, to 1,206.51, and the Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 100.25, or 4.78 percent, to 2,199.10.

The report of a broader government bailout proved more reassuring to investors than moves before Wall Street’s opening bell Thursday by the Federal Reserve and other major central banks to inject as much as $180 billion into global money markets. The moves were an attempt to keep the credit crisis from worsening; the Fed added another $55 billion in overnight loans Thursday.

But it was only the prospect of a more comprehensive vehicle to sweep up bad debt that emboldened investors. Congress established the RTC in 1989 to buy $394 billion worth of real estate, mortgages and other assets of hundreds of failed savings-and-loan institutions. The corporation operated for several years disposing of the associations’ assets, and then went out of business.

A repository for soured mortgage debt could help alleviate the grinding of the gears in the world’s credit markets that have driven up the cost of borrowing for businesses. Banks have become hesitant to make loans even to each other in recent days for fear of what institutions might be hobbled by soured debt. Investors are also contending with worries that more big-name financial companies could falter.

Fear in the markets had led to speculation about the future of such major players as thrift bank Washington Mutual Inc. and investment bank Morgan Stanley. Media reports have been saying that Wells Fargo & Co. and Citigroup Inc. are interested in a possible takeover of Washington Mutual; and a person familiar with the negotiations said Morgan Stanley and Wachovia Corp. are in talks about a possible combination. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks are ongoing.

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