25 Sep 2008

Bernanke urges bail-out action

6:00 am on 25 September 2008

The head of the US Federal Reserve has urged politicians to "act quickly" to support a proposed $US700 billion bail-out of financial markets.

Chairman Ben Bernanke added the US economy risked "very serious consequences" if measures were not taken.

Dr Bernanke said Congress must "address the grave threats to financial stability" which were being faced.

On Tuesday politicians expressed strong scepticism about the bail-out following a five-hour Senate hearing on the plan.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson earlier told the banking panel that delaying the bail-out would put the entire US economy at risk.

The White House has called on Republicans and Democrats to work together to approve the plan, under which a federal fund could buy bad debt from financial institutions with "significant operations in the US".

The fund would aim to sell these mortgage-related debts in the future when, the Treasury says, their value might have risen.

But congressmen from both sides said they wanted assurances that the plan would benefit ordinary American home-owners as well as Wall Street. Some have gone further, calling the plan a potential waste of public money.

Dr Bernanke added that the US economy continues to face substantial challenges, including a weakening labour market and elevated inflation: "Notably, stresses in financial markets have been high and have recently intensified significantly," he said.

"If financial conditions fail to improve for a protracted period, the implications for the broader economy could be quite adverse."