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Brendsel's Mactour

The U.S. economy is stalling, the stock market is languishing, the pundits (Alan Greenspan included) are doomsaying.

What a fine time to embark on a European road trip to plug an American stock! Well, it is as far as Leland Brendsel, the irrepressible 59-year-old CEO of U.S. übermortgage lender Freddie Mac, is concerned.

His pitch: Falling interest rates prop up the housing market and encourage homeowners to refinance their loans - giving a boost to Freddie Mac. "The housing market remains strong, and Freddie Mac is having an outstanding year," says Brendsel. For European investors Freddie Mac is almost as familiar an American moniker as Bill Clinton. But while one third of the mortgage agency's bonds are sold abroad - mainly in Europe - only 2 percent of its equity is held overseas. Brendsel's aim was to change that in his three-day tour last month.

But might the U.S., where house prices keep relentlessly rising despite the downturn, be in the midst of a housing bubble to rival the tech one? Mortgage delinquencies are at an all-time low, contends Brendsel, and "there would have to be a severe economic downturn before the overall loan quality of our portfolio started to deteriorate."