Fed takes new step to ease credit crunch

The Federal Reserve on Tuesday introduced a new program to finance the purchases of assets from money market mutual funds as the government continued to search for ways to battle a severe credit crisis.

“The short-term debt markets have been under considerable strain in recent weeks as money market mutual funds and other investors have had difficulty selling assets to satisfy redemption requests,” the Fed said in an announcement of its new effort.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. was chosen to run five special funds that will buy certificates of deposit, bank notes and commercial paper from money market mutual funds. The Fed will lend up to $540 billion to the five funds to support the effort.

Fed officials said that about $500billion had flowed out of prime money-market funds since August as investors began to worry about their ability to redeem their investments. On Sept. 18, the Treasury Department announced it was tapping a $50 billion Treasury fund to provide guarantees for the assets in the funds. The new Fed initiative is designed to bolster the funds further.

Meanwhile, the Treasury Department announced Tuesday that it had selected two major accounting firms to help manage the government's $700billion rescue program for the financial system.

The department selected Pricewaterhouse Coopers to be an auditor for the program that will purchase troubled assets from financial institutions while Ernst & Young was chose to provide general accounting support.

Those announcements came as the House Financial Services Committee held a hearing Tuesday in which experts discussed what needs to be done to improve the government's regulatory structure. The aim is to find a way to better manage the financial system to prevent another financial crisis.

Democrats in Congress were also pushing ahead with efforts to assemble a second economic stimulus program. That effort got a timely endorsement on Monday from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

Wall Street pulled back Tuesday as investors decided to cash in some of the big gains of the previous session. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 231.77, or 2.50 percent, a retreat following a gain of 413 points on Monday.

The credit markets made more moves to mount a recovery following the severe disruptions that began in mid-September with the bankruptcy filing of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. Rates on loans between banks and yields on Treasury bills returned to their levels of late September.

The White House said Monday that President Bush was at least willing to consider a second stimulus measure to follow a $168 billion program passed in February and a $700billion financial system rescue plan passed on Oct. 3.

Democrats say any stimulus bill would include items previously rejected by Bush such as road and bridge construction money and help for state budgets.

Another round of tax rebates is possible, too, to make the measure big enough to jolt the economy, which many economists think has already slipped into recession.