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Fed auctions $59.46 billion in Treasury securities

SHARE Fed auctions $59.46 billion in Treasury securities

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve has auctioned $59.46 billion in super-safe Treasury securities to big investment firms, part of an ongoing effort to help strained credit markets.

The auction — the fifth of its kind — was held Thursday and fetched bids totaling $59.46 billion. That was less than the $75 billion worth of securities the Fed was making available. It could suggest that demand for Treasuries may be easing a bit. And, that might be viewed as a possible sign of some improvement in credit conditions.

In exchange for the 28-day loan of Treasury securities, bidding firms can put up more risky investments, including certain shunned mortgage-backed securities, as collateral.

In the five auctions held so far, the Fed has provided close to $218.41 billion worth of the Treasury securities to investment firms since the program began on March 27.

In Thursday's auction, investment firms paid an interest rate of 0.2500 percent for a slice of securities.

The auction program is intended to help financial institutions and the troubled mortgage market.

The goal is to make investment houses more inclined to lend to each other. It also is aimed at providing relief to the distressed market for mortgage-linked securities. Questions about their value and dumping of these securities had driven up mortgage rates, aggravating the housing slump.

The lending program is one of several unconventional steps the Fed has taken to deal with a credit crisis.

Credit troubles worsened earlier this year, driving investment firm Bear Stearns to the brink of bankruptcy and spurring fears other big Wall Street companies could be in jeopardy.

Wanting to avert a broader panic that could endanger the entire U.S. financial system, the Fed agreed last month to temporarily let investment firms obtain emergency loans directly from the Fed, a privilege that only commercial banks had been granted. The decision marked the broadest extension of the Fed's lending authority since the 1930s.