“To provide authority for the Federal Government to purchase and insure certain types of troubled assets for the purposes of providing stability to and preventing disruption in the economy and financial system and protecting taxpayers, and for other purposes.”

So begins the draft bill to save the US financial system. With tentative agreement reached between Democrats and Republicans on the details of the bailout, now US lawmakers are waiting, fingers crossed, for markets to see it as a decisive and helpful move. Here’s how the media is reporting the situation.

Lawmakers reach accord on huge financial bailout. Congressional leaders and the Bush administration this morning said they had struck an accord to insert the government deeply into the nation’s financial markets, agreeing to spend up to $700 billion to relieve Wall Street of troubled assets backed by faltering home mortgages.

House and Senate negotiators from both parties emerged with Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. at 12:30 a.m. from a marathon session in the Capitol to announce that they had reached a tentative agreement on a proposal to give Paulson broad authority to organize one of the biggest government interventions in the private sector since the Great Depression. — Washington Post

Long and exhausting road to compromise. As worries mounted that the talks could once again be derailed, weary staffers and lawmakers were able to cobble together a consensus on congressional demands from both parties. Ms Pelosi then presented them to George W. Bush in a late-night call.

Democrats agreed to drop a plan to divert 20 per cent of any profits from the programme to an affordable housing fund. They also let go of demands that foreclosed properties be available at a discount to state and local government, which the administration opposed. Curbs on executive pay — though present in the deal — were also watered down, with Democrats dropping their insistence that shareholders have a vote on pay. — Financial Times

The Washington panic. Nobel economics laureate Gary Becker is no alarmist, but this week he wrote on his blog, “I have reluctantly concluded that substantial intervention was justified to avoid a major short-term collapse of the financial system that could push the world economy in a major depression.” Anyone who thinks that capitalism will fare better after a crash should recall that the 1930s didn’t end politically until 1980. — Wall Street Journal

The deal’s getting done, but will it work. [M]y concern at present is whether the bailout will work at all. I think the complexities of the reverse auctions on small illiquid distressed securitized assets will prove difficult. Further, the talk that the bailout won’t cost anything is highly unlikely. Of all of the U.S. government’s bailouts, only the Chrysler bailout made money. So long as you are in a fiat money system, in a bailout, the job of the government is to prevent contagion and minimize loss, in that order. Bailouts don’t make money, and that should not be expected. — Naked Capitalism

The end of a Wall Street era. Wall Street. Two simple words that — like Hollywood and Washington — conjure up a world. A world of big egos. A world where people love to roll the dice with borrowed money. A world of high-wire trading, propelled by computers.

In search of ever-higher returns – and larger yachts, faster cars and pricier art collections for their top executives – Wall Street firms bulked up their trading desks and hired quantum physicists to develop foolproof programs. That world is largely coming to an end.

The huge bailout package being debated in Congress may succeed in stabilizing the financial markets. But it is too late to help companies like Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, which have already disappeared. — International Herald Tribune

A big slap in the face for free markets. You can’t possibly have hidden yourself from the news of the $700-billion planned bailout that’s working through Congress this week. And I won’t mince words — I consider it a big slap in the face for the free market system.

Henry Paulson repeated over and over again exactly how agitated, disgusted, annoyed, infuriated, angered, embarrassed, and irritated he felt about asking for this amount of money, or any money at all. Sounds sincere if you stop it right there.

But apparently those feelings weren’t enough to reinvigorate his free-market spirit, abolish potential bailout plans, do away with unnecessary regulation and let those who deserve to suffer, suffer. — Money and Markets

Peter Fray

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