Employment Cooling, Housing Slipping as Fed Continues to Combat Inflation

The nation’s red hot labor market cooled a bit in August, indicating that the Federal Reserve’s inflation-fighting efforts may be having the desired effect. But Fed officials aren’t declaring victory yet. Far from it.

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Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson hasn’t managed to end the subprime lending crisis, but he did succeed in driving it briefly from the front pages last week, by unveiling a sweeping plan for reconfiguring the regulatory framework for the nation’s financial system. Paulson’s proposal certainly attracted the attention of credit union executives, who were stunned – and not in a good way – by the plan to consolidate regulatory oversight and establish a single federal bank charter, effectively eliminating separate charters for savings and loan institutions and credit unions. 

Twice in the past six years, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has floated a plan to overhaul the Real Estate Settlement Practices Act (RESPA),  a statute that nearly everyone views as dysfunctional at best and counter-productive at worst, only to see the proposed reforms shot down by industry opposition. 

“Wherever you look, things look bleak.” We could begin and end this month’s update with economist Robert Shiller’s grim but accurate description of the housing landscape. Current statistics certainly don’t provide any reason to dispute his assessment or to predict that conditions will improve any time soon.

No!  No way!  Absolutely not!  Never mind.  That pretty much summarizes the dramatic reversal in policy that led the Bush Administration to support a reduction in the capital requirements for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, freeing the secondary market giants to play a larger role in efforts to contain the damage caused by the subprime mortgage crisis.