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KBW: no benefit from forced refi program

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The federal government has few fiscal policy options left in dealing with the economic recession, according to one analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. Brian Gardner said Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke didn't instill much confidence in his speech Friday, and "the current political environment limits fiscal and regulatory options." He said continued weak economic data, including the revised GDP figure from last week, puts added pressure on Washington to respond to a lethargic economy. But there are few options that have a realistic chance of taking root. "We think that an extension of the Bush tax cuts for all income levels is growing more likely by the day, but after that, the prospects for additional legislative action reside between slim and none," Gardner wrote in an equity research note. He said a government-led forced refi program is "unlikely and wouldn't provide much benefit anyway." Under such a plan, the government would force the refinancing of any mortgage to which it has a connection through Federal Housing Authority or the GSEs, regardless of FICO scores and loan-to-value ratios and without documentation, KBW said. And the timing of any forced refi plan has become political. Gardner said if Congress chooses to extend the tax breaks, it will happen in September. But then the politicians won't do much else before breaking in early October to jump full swing into the November elections. This puts the onus on the Obama administration to decide what, if any, reforms are imminently needed. Gardner doubts the administration will implement a forced refi plan before late October when it might become politically beneficial by providing a boost for some Democratic candidates. Doing it earlier could seem like the administration is panicking ahead of the election, fearful of Republican gains, according to Gardner. Still, he said a forced refi may come next year "if the economy continues to stagnate and political gridlock blocks administration's attempts at additional fiscal stimulus." But "for the short term, the message is 'don't expect much from Washington,'" Gardner said. Keefe, Bruyette & Woods is a unit of KBW Inc. (KBW). Write to Jason Philyaw.

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