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Investment Firms Tap Fed for Billions

JEANNINE AVERSA   03/20/08 06:40 PM ET   AP

Bernanke

WASHINGTON — Big Wall Street investment companies are taking advantage of the Federal Reserve's unprecedented offer to secure emergency loans, the central bank reported Thursday.

The lending is part of a major effort by the Fed to help a financial system in danger of freezing.

Those large firms averaged $13.4 billion in daily borrowing over the past week from the new lending facility. The report does not identify the borrowers.

The Fed, in a bold move Sunday, agreed for the first time to let big investment houses get emergency loans directly from the central bank. This mechanism, similar to one available for commercial banks for years, got under way Monday and will continue for at least six months. It was the broadest use of the Fed's lending authority since the 1930s.

Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers and Morgan Stanley said Wednesday they had begun to test the new lending mechanism.

On Wednesday alone, lending reached $28.8 billion, according to the Fed report.

The Fed created a way for investment firms to have regular access to a source of short-term cash. This lending facility is seen as similar to the Fed's "discount window" for banks. Commercial banks and investment companies pay 2.5 percent in interest for overnight loans from the Fed.

Investment houses can put up a range of collateral, including investment-grade mortgage backed securities.

The Fed, in another rare move last Friday, agreed to let JP Morgan Chase secure emergency financing from the central bank to rescue the venerable Wall Street firm Bear Stearns from collapse. Two days later, the Fed backed a deal for JP Morgan to take over Bear Stearns.

Thursday's report offered insight on how much credit was extended to Bear Stearns via JP Morgan through the transaction the Fed approved last Friday. Average daily borrowing came to $5.5 billion for the week ending Wednesday.

Separately, the Fed said it will make $75 billion of Treasury securities available to big investment firms next week. Investment houses can bid on a slice of the securities at a Fed auction next Thursday; a second is set for April 3.

The Fed will allow investment firms to borrow up to $200 billion in safe Treasury securities by using some of their more risky investments as collateral.

By allowing this, the Fed is hoping to take pressure off financial companies and make them more inclined to lend to people and businesses.

The housing collapse and credit crunch have led to record-high home foreclosures and forced financial companies to rack up multibillion losses in complex mortgage investments that turned sour.

In the past day and weeks, the Fed has taken extraordinary moves aimed at making sure that problems in credit and financial markets do not sink the economy.

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On the Net:

Federal Reserve: http://www.federalreserve.gov

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Filed by Michelle Kung  |