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Can Bailout Salve the Financials Woes?

Updated from 2:53 p.m. EDT.

Drastic steps outlined by U.S. regulators on Friday seemed to salve the wounds of the financial sector, which has been reeling from losses on bad loans for the past several months.

A temporary plan sketched out by the Treasury Department, Federal Reserve and Securities and Exchange Commission calmed a panic-stricken market, sending the Dow Jones Industrial Average up more than 4% early in the day. The steps include pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into the housing market, curbing short sales and supporting money-market funds.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson promised more comprehensive changes in the days and months ahead, but, as they say, the devil is in the details.

Paulson will be hammering out particulars over the weekend with Congress for a plan to remove illiquid assets from banks' books. Although he did not specifically mention a Resolution Trust Corp. structure, it is widely believed that a similar arrangement will take shape. The RTC served as a repository for failed banks' assets after the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s, but it's not clear how such a system would work in today's more complicated market.

Besides the typical hurdles for any legislation -- such as competing ideas and partisan bickering, particularly just two months ahead of a major election -- the financial landscape has changed dramatically since the first RTC was set up in 1989. That entity took over a wide variety of S&L assets, from office buildings and shopping centers, to loans, junk bonds and derivatives, but each asset was generally held by one entity. The bad assets of today consist mostly of securitized pools of loans owned by various parties across the globe, creating an even more complex puzzle for regulators to put their arms around.
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