A warning for bond insurance

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Feb 14, 2008


Scott Jagow: Maybe it won’t be as dramatic as Roger Clemens on Capitol Hill, but today, Congress hears from a line-up of heavy financial hitters. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. Christopher Cox, the head of the SEC. They’ll each give their assessment of the economy of the markets to the Senate Banking Committee in just a few minutes.

Then, New York Governor Elliot Spitzer testifies before a House Subcommittee. Spitzer plans to give a stern warning about the bond insurance business. Nancy Marshall Genzer has more.

Nancy Marshall Genzer: Governor Spitzer is concerned because local governments need bond insurers to back their municipal bonds. State and local governments can only use top-rated insurers.

But bond insurers could lose their triple-A ratings. That’s because they’re expected to suffer big losses from insuring bonds linked to subprime mortgages. Spitzer says if the government doesn’t help the bond insurers, there’ll be a “financial tsunami.”

But economist Bernard Baumohl of the Economic Outlook Group says the government’s options may be limited. The bond insurers are guaranteeing more than $2 trillion worth of debt.

Bernard Baumohl: We’re talking about such huge numbers that there’s really not much the federal government can do. I think the markets will correct this. It may take time. That’s the biggest price that we’re going to pay.

Baumohl says it’ll take one to two years.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

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