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Fed starts program to buy illiquid mortgage assets

January 06, 2009 | “MarketWatch"

New York Fed will buy $500 billion mortgage-backed securities

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- The Federal Reserve Bank of New York on Monday began buying illiquid mortgage-backed securities guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and Ginnie Mae as part of an earlier announced $500 billion program.

The program was announced by the Fed on Nov. 25, as part of a program to create liquidity in the mortgage-backed securities market, help lower mortgage rates and end the housing crisis.

Lawmakers in Congress on Oct. 3 approved a $700 billion bank bailout legislation with the expectation that it would be used to buy illiquid mortgage-backed securities. The New York Fed program was launched after the Treasury Department started using the separate $700 billion bank bailout fund to buy large minority stakes in financial institutions.

"The Federal Reserve Bank of New York today began purchasing fixed-rate mortgage-backed securities guaranteed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae," the Fed said in a statement.

The Fed said it would provide some details about the operation on January 8, with weekly updates after that. It also contracted "selected private investment managers" to help make the purchases.

The Fed may try to buy the mortgage securities either in direct one-on-one purchases or through auctions.

A number of different financial institutions hold illiquid mortgage-backed securities guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and Ginnie Mae, including banks and hedge funds, and are eligible for the program.

The Fed said late last year that it planned to complete its purchases of mortgage securities by June 30, significantly faster than most regulatory observers had initially expected.

The mortgage purchase plan was announced as part of a larger Fed program announced Nov. 25 that would also use $20 billion of the bank bailout package to back a consumer-lending facility operated by the New York Federal to provide liquidity to consumer loans such as student loans and credit cards.

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