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WASHINGTON, DC-After a year of extraordinary financial life support to the economy, the Federal Reserve is making plans to ease out of most of the emergency programs it set up in 2008. It just announced that — as it first warned in June — most of its special liquidity facilities will expire on Feb. 1, 2010.

These facilities include the Asset-Backed Commercial Paper Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility, the Commercial Paper Funding Facility, the Primary Dealer Credit Facility, and the Term Securities Lending Facility. The Fed is also working with its central bank counterparts in other countries to close the liquidity swap arrangements established last year to bolster foreign reserves and currencies — again, by Feb. 1. The Term Auction Facility? Scaled back in early 2010. The Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, or TALF, has a little longer shelf life, but it too is scheduled to end. The closing date for loans backed by new-issue commercial mortgage backed securities is June 30, 2010, and March 31, 2010, for loans backed by all other types of collateral.

Besides TALF, the Fed’s decision to purchase $1.25 trillion of agency mortgage-backed securities and about $175 billion of agency debt, has probably been of greatest significance to the real estate market. That too is scaling back, with the Central Bank anticipating the last of these transactions executed by the end of the first quarter of 2010.

There is some wiggle room with this particular program however. According to a statement by the Fed, it “will continue to evaluate the timing and overall amounts of its purchases of securities in light of the evolving economic outlook and conditions in financial markets.”

For all the angst in the mortgage markets, rates have remained low, thanks it part to these $1 trillion purchases. Easing up could well send mortgage rates higher – one reason why when last month a senior Federal Reserve official hinted he wanted to extend the mortgage-related assets purchase program beyond its March expiration date some in the industry swooned with joy.

Many people believe that housing prices may have hit bottom and would only fall further if unemployment continues to increase in the first quarter of 2010, Allan Krinsman from Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP explains. “If the Fed stops all purchasing of agency MBS at the end of March, the effects of terminating the program would jeopardize the perception that housing prices have stabilized,” he tells GlobeSt.com. On the other hand, purchases beyond March would give the Fed flexibility to decide whether additional support for the housing market is essential or whether mortgage interest rates can be allowed to rise without disastrous effects on housing.”

Indeed even ardent supporters of the program understand the risks associated with extension. “Detractors will say that the government is lending money it doesn’t have, which adds to the deficit,” Sheldon Chanales, a partner with Herrick, Feinstein, tells GlobeSt.com. “That’s a legitimate fear, but in relative terms, it concerns me far less than a commercial real estate market that has ground to a halt because of a lack of liquidity. There’s also the possibility that we get a burst of activity followed by another slowdown, and that could occur if the banks lend but the MBS market remains dormant and shows no appetite to buy loans.”

There is little dispute that the program has had a favorable impact on not only the housing market but also the larger economy, Bruce Prigoff, a partner at Cox Castle & Nicholson, tells GlobeSt.com.

It has, in combination with the tax credit for first time home buyers, “given a lift to the lower priced end of the housing market. This government stimulus is directly targeted at one of the core impacted areas of the recession-once looming depression and has served to assist in stabilizing the free fall of the housing market for those segments of the housing market eligible for financing from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.”

When the program is withdrawn – a program that admittedly has helped cause the deficit to balloon and the dollar to decline – mortgage interest rates will rise and the government will hold on its books a huge volume of below market mortgage loans, he continues. “It is at that time that we will learn the true “cost” of this federal program. Like the timing for termination or winding down of other federal stimulus programs, the exit strategy is tricky and may be difficult to execute without market disruption,” Prigoff concludes.

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