Wall Street shakes Main Street

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By Nathan L. McBroom

723 miles.

That's how far Wall Street is from downtown Shelbyville.

That might seem like a long way, but the proposed $700 billion bailout of failing mortgage finance companies will hit pretty close to home.

It would cost taxpayers in Shelby County alone $80 million.

Some people are calling Wall Street's current financial crisis the worst since The Great Depression, causing many nationally and locally to question the wisdom of the bailout and the overall financial stability of the country.

K.C. Crahan, a local financial advisor with Hilliard Lyons in Shelbyville, said the economy is currently going through a necessary adjustment period from the inflated growth of previous years. He said history has shown that such market corrections are to be expected.

"People need to be aware that the market goes in cycles," he said. "The difference in this market correction from the past is that the government is taking a hands on approach."

Though the government has made interventions in the market in the past - such as the recent help given to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac - this bailout would be the largest in U.S. history.

If the package that is currently being debated in Congress passes - and reports are indicating that it will - the government would keep afloat numerous failing mortgage finance companies. Their decline has sent stocks and investment markets bouncing up and down, but mostly down.

This plan does not mean that the federal government simply will write a check for $700 billion. It does, however, commit that amount, if necessary, to help out these companies, which got into in trouble in 2006, when the number of foreclosures on sub-prime mortgages began to skyrocket.

Under the proposed plan, the federal government will buy the mortgages from the struggling banks, freeing them from the financial burden of the defaulted loans. As the economy strengthens, the plan is for banks to begin buying the mortgages back from the government, which should repay the $700 billion taxpayer debt.

This proposed bailout is in addition to the $29 billion pledged earlier this year help Bear Stearns and $85 billion for insurance giant American International Group. There was also a $25 billion bailout of mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Some local officials are calling the bailout a correct move, but others have questions.

State Rep. Brad Montell (R-Shelbyville) said that though he is leery of the bailout, it is far better than doing nothing. He said inaction could imperil the retirement savings and other investments across the nation and in the community.

"Under the circumstances, I think it is the right thing to do," he said.

State Sen. Gary Tapp (R-Shelbyville) said, though he is in favor of this action, he believes the money needs to be scrutinized heavily.

"There has to be accountability built in and a way for us to ensure that we are going to get that money back," he said. "Taxpayers can't be saddled with that much debt."

With just over 300 million people in the country, the cost of the bail out is expect to be somewhere near $2,300 for every man, woman and child.

Belinda Nichols, Shelby market president for Commonwealth Bank, said the current crisis was largely caused by banks and mortgage companies that gave loans to people who should not have received them.

She said sometimes turning down a loan is the right thing for a bank to do.

"They may not like that right then, but that is the kindest and right thing to do," she said. "It's not a bad thing to say no sometimes."

Nichols also said that some of the mortgage investors who were responsible for giving these bad loans should be held accountable.

"It's come down to holding people accountable to what they are doing," she said.

Shelbyville Mayor Tom Hardesty said he would want a full-scale investigation of the circumstances that lead to the crisis.

"My concern is, is it justified? Why weren't government regulations being followed all along?" he asked. "I worry about how, if this thing, if it happens, that it will affect our children, our grandchildren and us."

With the investment markets bouncing, Crahan said now might be a good time for stockholders to review their investment plans.

"A lot of people try to do it on their own without a broker," he said. "Those are the ones that might have a hard time sleeping at night."