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What those darn mortgage securities are worth

In October, expressing frustration over plunging mortgage-bond values and an inability to value the complex securities, Fed boss Ben Bernanke said: ''I'd like to know what those damn things are worth."

Well, now we know. Late yesterday Merrill Lynch announced it would sell $30 billion in radioactive mortgage paper at 22 cents on the dollar and take another huge, huge writedown on its balance sheet. According to the Wall Street Journal, Merrill has lost more than $46 billion -- billion! -- on bad mortgage securities in the last 13 months. And it still owns $9 billion of the stuff.

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This fire sale will put pressure on everybody else who owns this junk to take their own lumps and swallow their own massive writedowns.

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