Stocks surge on report of entity for bad debt

Thursday September 18, 4:19 pm ET
By Tim Paradis, AP Business Writer

Stocks end sharply higher on report that government will create entity to hold banks’ debt

NEW YORK (AP) — Wall Street rallied in a stunning late-session turnaround Thursday, shooting higher and hurtling the Dow Jones industrials up 400 points following a report that the federal government may create an entity that will take over banks’ bad debt.

A report that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is considering the formation of an entity like the Resolution Trust Corp. that was set up during the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s left investors ebullient. Investors hoped a huge federal intervention could help financial institutions jettison bad mortgage debt and stop the drain on capital that has already taken down companies including Bear Stearns Cos. (BSC) and Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc (LEH).

Worries about financial land mines on companies’ books have hobbled the world’s financial markets and led to the intense volatility in the markets this week.

“It’s going to take a lot of the bad debt off the balance sheets of these companies,” said Scott Fullman, director of derivatives investment strategy for WJB Capital Group in New York, commenting on the possibilities of an entity akin to the RTC. It could alleviate many of the pressures causing the credit crisis, he said, and open up the credit markets again. But Fullman noted, “the devil’s in the details.”

“Bear markets are very sensitive to news. And on a scale of 1 to 10, this one is a 13,” he said.

The report gave direction to a market that had bolted in and out of positive territory for much of the session as investors shuttled between the safety of Treasury bills and gold and the bargains posed by stocks that have been pounded lower.

According to preliminary calculations, the Dow soared 410.03, or 3.86 percent, to 11,019.69, surging 560 points from its low of the day, 10,459.44.

Broader stock indicators also jumped. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 50.01, or 4.32 percent, to 1,206.60, and the Nasdaq composite index advanced 100.25, or 4.78 percent, to 2,199.10.

The report of a broader government bailout proved more reassuring to investors than moves before the opening bell Thursday by the Federal Reserve and other major central banks to inject as much as $180 billion into global money markets. The moves were an attempt to keep the credit crisis from worsening; the Fed added another $55 billion in overnight loans Thursday.

But it was only the prospect of a more comprehensive vehicle to sweep up bad debt that emboldened investors. Congress established the RTC in 1989 to buy $394 billion worth of real estate, mortgages and other assets of hundreds of failed savings-and-loan institutions. The corporation operated for several years disposing of the associations’ assets, and then went out of business.

That could help alleviate the grinding gears in the world’s credit markets have driven up the cost of borrowing for businesses; banks have become hesitant to make loans even to other banks for fear of what institutions might be hobbled by soured debt. Investors are also contending with fears that more big-name financial companies could falter.

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