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Big 4 Accounting Firms To Manage Bailout

The government has selected two major accounting firms to help it manage the $700 billion rescue program for the financial system.

The Treasury Department said Tuesday it had chosen PricewaterhouseCoopers to be the auditor for the program. Ernst & Young will provide general accounting support.

The two firms will work on the part of the rescue program that is handling the purchase of troubled assets from banks as a way of encouraging them to resume more normal lending.

Treasury said that Ernst & Young will be paid $492,006.95 initially while Pricewaterhouse Coopers will be paid $191,469.27 for its services initially. The two contracts last until Sept. 30, 2011.

In a statement, Treasury said that the two firms will help the department with accounting and internal control services that will be needed "to administer the complex portfolio of troubled assets the department will purchase, including whole loans and mortgage-backed securities."

The government still must select the five to 10 asset management firms that will actually run the program. Those selections could come as soon as this week.

Last week, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson announced that the government would use $250 billion of the $700 billion rescue program to make direct purchases of bank stock as a way of boosting the banks' capital reserves. That will leave $100 billion of the initial $350 billion in the first phase of the program to purchase troubled assets.

Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve announced Tuesday that it will start buying commercial paper - a crucial short-term funding mechanism many companies rely on for day-to-day operations - from money market mutual funds.

It's the latest effort by the central bank to break through a credit clog that has hobbled lending and threatens to plunge the country into a deep and painful recession.

The move comes as lending rates between banks in the U.S. and Europe dropped to the lowest levels in a month Tuesday as credit markets continue to improve.

The rate on three-month loans in dollars - known as the London Interbank Offered Rate or Libor - has slumped 0.23 percentage points to 3.83 percent, the lowest since Sept. 26 and the first time it has dropped under 4.00 percent since Sept. 29.

The Fed is tapping its Depression-era emergency powers and creating a new facility to buy a vast array of commercial paper from the funds. Money market mutual funds have been under pressure as skittish investors demand withdrawals. Many companies rely on commercial paper to pay workers and buy supplies.

The situation has led to an intense credit crunch for companies depending on commercial paper.

"The short-term debt markets have been under considerable strain in recent weeks as money market mutual funds and other investors have had difficulty selling assets to satisfy redemption requests," the Fed explained.

The Fed plans to buy an array of commercial paper from the funds - including some that is not backed by assets as well as those with remaining maturities of 90 days or less. The Fed also will buy dollar-denominated certificates of deposit.

By doing so, the Fed hopes to improve conditions so banks and other financial institutions will be more inclined to lend to each other, and to consumers and businesses.

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