Dollars & Sense

Housing market hasn't hit bottom

Homeowners and investors hunting for any indication that the housing market has bottomed out didn't get it Tuesday, as the latest home sales data from a real estate trade group moved that sign further down the road to recovery. The National Association of Realtors said pending U.S. home sales fell in February to the lowest reading since the index began in 2001. The trade group's seasonally adjusted index of pending sales for existing homes fell to 84.6 from January's upwardly revised reading of 86.2. A year earlier, the index stood at 107.6. A reading of 100 is equal to the average level of sales when the index started. The previous low was August's reading of 85.8, recorded at the height of the credit crunch.

WaMu gets relief

Washington Mutual Inc. secured $7 billion in new capital Tuesday, an injection that is aimed at reviving the company despite ballooning loan losses. Washington Mutual said it would get the new capital from an investment group led by private equity group TPG, but will cut its dividend again and post both a wider loss and set aside more in loan loss provisions for the first quarter than had been expected. TPG founding partner David Bonderman, a former WaMu director, will also rejoin the board. Separately, the thrift said it will get out of the wholesale lending business, close all remaining standalone home loan centers and lay off about 3,000 workers.

Fed worried about a deep recession

Worries about a deep recession -- not a shallow one -- drove Federal Reserve policymakers to slash a key interest rate last month, meeting minutes show. Even as the Fed battled in almost unprecedented fashion to stem a widening credit and housing slump, some members fretted over the possibility of a "prolonged and severe" economic downturn. It was in that environment that they voted -- with two dissents -- to cut its most important interest rate by three-quarters of a percentage point to 2.25 percent. That action capped the most aggressive Fed intervention in a quarter-century.

Coming Thursday

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