New Obama refi plan could get help from Fed


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Another Federal Reserve policymaker signaled Monday that the central bank may launch a new round of mortgage-bond purchases to boost the housing market.

The comments by New York Fed President Bill Dudley came on the same day that the Obama administration announced a major overhaul of its mortgage-refinancing program for loans owned or backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.


A new Fed program “would complement the goals of the administration in helping the housing market,” said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial in Newark, N.J.

Dudley, speaking in New York on the economy, said that the continued weakness in housing was “a serious impediment to a stronger economic recovery. . . . Mortgage rates are at record lows and house prices no longer appear overvalued on affordability measures. But obstacles to refinancing and access to credit for home purchases are limiting the support provided by low rates to house prices and consumption.”

Noting that the Fed last month decided to shift more of its massive securities portfolio toward longer-term Treasury bonds to pull down long-term interest rates in general -- including mortgage rates -- Dudley said in response to audience questions that the Fed “potentially could move to do more in that direction.”

Recent market speculation has centered on the idea of the Fed printing money to buy another large chunk of mortgage-backed bonds. The idea would be try to push mortgage rates even lower, which could help spur home purchases and refinancings.

On Friday, Fed Vice Chairwoman Janet Yellen said that another large bond-buying program “might become appropriate if evolving economic conditions called for significantly greater monetary accommodation.”

The average 30-year mortgage rate fell to a generational low of 3.94% in the first week of October, but has since edged up a bit, to 4.11% last week, according to Freddie Mac.

Long-term Treasury bond yields have risen since late September as worries about another U.S. recession have faded, eroding some of the “haven” demand for government bonds. That has helped to put upward pressure on mortgage rates.

The Fed bought $1.25 trillion of mortgage-backed bonds in 2009 and 2010, but it has allowed that portfolio to decline to $860 billion as securities have matured.

Yellen and Dudley are allies of Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke. But they face opposition from some Fed officials who believe the central bank already has done enough to boost the economy.


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-- Tom Petruno

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