Another wave of worrisome news about the economy Thursday heightened interest in how the Federal Reserve, the Bush administration and Congress might respond in coming weeks. Merrill Lynch & Co. today said it wrote down $14.1 billion in investments tied to securities backed by subprime mortgages and other debts, contributing to its largest quarterly loss in company history -- $9.8 billion. Merrill Lynch's report on fourth-quarter earnings came on the heels of news a similar loss at Citigroup Inc. and smaller but substantial write-downs at JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo. In another report out today, the U.S. Census Bureau and Department of Housing and Urban Development said housing starts fell to their lowest level since 1991 (see Inman News story). Investors were also startled by a survey released today by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia showing activity in the region's manufacturing sector was the weakest since October 2001. That report suggested that the mortgage lendin...
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