Bank recapitalization is in the air, which tends to prompt at least two responses: (a) what’s bank recapitalization? or (b) this is socialism!
Bank recapitalization is when an external entity buys new equity shares (stock, as opposed to bonds) in a bank in exchange for cash. The effect is to boost the bank’s assets without increasing its liabilities; since one worry about the banking sector is that it does not have enough capital (that is, it may not have enough assets to balance its liabilities), this is a good thing. (If the bit about capital, assets, and liabilities is confusing, see Financial Crisis for Beginners.) Of course, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and in this case the bank’s existing shareholders get diluted, because they don’t own as much of the bank as before. But, in general, it’s better to own part of a bank that exists than a larger part of a bank that no longer exists.
Bank recapitalization could be as simple as this: the government (meaning the taxpayer) gets the same kind of deal that Warren Buffett got when he invested in Goldman two weeks ago. In that deal, Buffett paid $5 billion for preferred stock at $123 per share. The preferred stock pays a 10% dividend, meaning that Buffett gets $500 million per year from Goldman’s cash flow. He also got warrants that give him the right to buy up to $5 billion worth of common stock at $115 per share. At the time the deal was announced, Goldman common stock was trading at $125. Even though Goldman closed at $101 yesterday (and has fallen so far today), Buffett is still getting a 10% yield from the $500 million dividend, and if Goldman goes up he stands to make a lot of money from the warrants.