US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke warned that the US economy faces “serious consequences” if Congress fails to approve quickly a proposed $700bn (£377m) mortgage bail-out fund.
The pair are fighting to implement the plan in light of continued volatility in world markets and tightening in the credit markets.
“Action by the Congress is urgently required to stabilise the situation and avert what otherwise could be very serious consequences for our financial markets and for our economy,” said Mr Bernanke.
Meanwhile, the UK came under pressure to set up its own scheme, after Mr Paulson confirmed for the first time that he talked with central banks around the world, believed to include the Bank of England (BoE), urging them to put similar programmes in place.
In a note to clients yesterday, Deutsche Bank analyst Ganesh Rajendra suggested it would cost the BoE about £20bn to rescue 75pc of the UK’s outstanding non-prime mortgages. But the UK appears reluctant to do so, particularly given that UK banks such as Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland will be able to participate in the US fund, because it will be open to any bank that has operations that are important to America.
In the US, politicians from both sides of Congress continued to object to certain parts of the plan, with agreement still to be reached on the way the fund will operate and how it will buy the mortgages from the banks involved.
Last night, a bipartisan agreement had still not been reached on the finer details, despite strong words from Mr Paulson and Mr Bernanke before the Senate Banking Committee yesterday that appeared designed to galvanise lawmakers into action.
To date, the two men – who received a considerable grilling yesterday, with Senator Richard Shelby saying he had received “no credible assurances that this plan will work” – have given in to demands for some form of oversight board to regulate the fund, as well as fresh assistance for homeowners in the foreclosure process.
Also, they are believed to be on the verge of conceding on the need for the Treasury to take equity stakes in the banks that wish to sell assets into the fund – to be known as the “Troubled Assets Relief Programme” (TARP).
But there has not been agreement on whether banks that get involved should agree to restrictions on executive pay, or if there should be changes to bankruptcy laws to help distressed mortgage-holders.
The Treasury is considering an auction for the mortgages from interested banks but, again, no pricing mechanism has yet been detailed.
Democratic Congressman Mike McNulty likened the alleged rush to approve the bail-out fund to the days that led up to approval for the Iraq war: “We have been told repeatedly by this administration that the economy is fundamentally sound and then, all of a sudden, they say the economy is going to collapse. That is unacceptable.”