Fed to Take Further Steps to Rescue Sinking Housing Markets

U.S. stocks took another tumble on Thursday with the major indexes each sliding more than 2.5 percent after a day of gains and losses. Investors have a host of concerns that are driving their buy and sell decisions, but the pervading sense of uncertainty won through in the end, with the session closing on a low. Executives from the Big Three automakers presented their case to a Senate panel on Thursday and will be speaking before the House panel on Friday in an effort to secure what they prefer to refer to as a “bridge loan” rather than a “bailout”. Oil prices dipping to an almost four-year low, a drop in gold and other metals, disconcerting unemployment figures, a dismal outlook on the housing market and gloomy retail reports all added to the late-in-the-day stock sell-off.

A number of steps are being taken to boost the embattled housing market, with the latest being a proposed reduction in mortgage rates to a historically low 4.5 percent in an effort to entice potential home buyers into the market, with the aim of stabilizing home prices and reviving the economy. This follows the $600 billion plan announced a week ago by the Federal Reserve aimed at reducing mortgage rates. The 4.5 percent will only apply to new home purchases and will not apply to homeowners looking to refinance.

But experts say this latest move is not likely to achieve its objective, as the problem is not only the interest rate, but the difficulty being experienced in securing credit with reasonable down-payments and terms. Current mortgages require a 20 percent down-payment, which is a huge stumbling block to potential homeowners who are meeting monthly expenses with little left over to save. It has been suggested that down-payments be cut to 15 or even 10 percent. Also, potential buyers are wary of committing themselves to such a large purchase in the current climate of falling home prices and rising unemployment.

Federal officials concede that the economy will not recover until the wave of foreclosures is stopped, with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke noting on Thursday at a Fed conference in Washington, D.C., that the government must do more to help homeowners hold onto their homes. Bernanke emphasized that “the housing market remains central to the financial and economic challenges” faced by the U.S. and every effort should be made to stabilize it. The government has been on the receiving end of some harsh criticism for dealing with the problem in bits and pieces, with a new plan being unveiled every week, rather than presenting a comprehensive plan to stabilize the housing market. Bearing in mind that officials are dealing with situations for which no precedents have been set, others see every step taken as a step in the right direction. It is anticipated that the Federal Reserve will reveal further strategies for rescuing the housing market early next week.