WSJ – Fed Wading Into Risky Political Waters With Housing Paper?

Last week we had a post about the Fed Reserve’s foray into housing policy with a white paper that, among other things,  addressed the possibility of mortgage modifications and recommended looking at converting foreclosed homes into rentals.  In this past weekend’s edition of the Wall Street Journal David Reilly points out that this could be a dangerous precedent for the Fed:

But having broached the thorny issue of using government entities to boost housing, the Fed didn’t touch on questions surrounding a needed long-term revamp of housing finance. This left the Fed implicitly endorsing the housing status quo: a market that is almost completely dependent on the government and, in particular, Fannie and Freddie. Whether the government should be involved in housing, or to what degree, is of course a highly contentious political question for Congress.

The Fed’s paper suggested it may be worth pursuing more aggressive actions in terms of loan modifications, mortgage refinancing and sales of foreclosed properties even if they cause greater short-term losses at Fannie and Freddie, and so by extension to taxpayers. And the paper may have led some in markets to believe a new, government housing effort was coming. The Fed’s paper said a possible policy option would be for the government to expand existing refinancing efforts “or introduce a new program.”

Expectations of such action helped spark a nearly 8% rally in Bank of America shares Thursday, although nothing is reportedly planned. Still, the reaction shows many now see the Fed and White House potentially acting together. That underscores how perceptions of Fed independence have already been eroded.