Tag Archives: TARP

The Two Sides of the Balance Sheet

Noam Scheiber at The New Republic has the inside scoop (hat tip Ezra Klein) on why Treasury is letting the Public-Private Investment Program die a quiet death (although at this point the legacy securities component may still go ahead). In short, the argument is that the point of PPIP was to help banks raise capital by cleaning up their balance sheets; since they have been able to raise capital themselves, there is no need for PPIP. According to one person Scheiber spoke to: “If you had asked–I don’t want to speak for the secretary–what’s problem number one? I think he’d say capital. Problem two? Capital. Problem three? Capital.”

This represents the latest swing of the pendulum between the two sides of the balance sheet. As anyone still reading about the financial crisis is probably aware, a balance sheet has two sides. On the left there are assets; on the right there are liabilities and equity; equity = assets minus liabilities. (There are different definitions of capital, depending on what subset of equity you use.)

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Option Pricing for Beginners

For a complete list of Beginners articles, see Financial Crisis for Beginners.

I’ve had two posts so far on the terms under which Treasury sold back to Old National the warrants on Old National stock that Treasury got in exchange for its TARP investment, so I thought it was time for an introduction to warrant/option pricing.

The warrants received by Treasury give Treasury the right to buy common stock in the issuing bank under predefined terms. Buying the stock is called exercising the warrant. The warrant specifies how many shares Treasury can buy; the price that it must pay to buy them (the exercise price); and the term of the warrant, meaning how long Treasury has to decide whether or not it wants to exercise the warrant. If Treasury never exercises the warrant, then it expires and nothing happens. For our purposes, a warrant is the same as a call option; there are some differences I will ignore, which are outlined here.

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Warrant Sales Could Cost Government $10 Billion

Mark Pittman at Bloomberg estimates the total potential cost to taxpayers of selling warrants back to banks at low prices: $10 billion.  These are the warrants that banks had to issue to Treasury in exchange for preferred stock investments under TARP. Pittman uses the Old National example as a benchmark: Old National paid $1.2 million to buy back warrants that he estimates at $5.8 million. (Linus Wilson, the first person I know of to do the calculations, estimated a range of values from $1.5 million to $6.9 million.) Extrapolating that “discount” to all the other warrants that Treasury currently holds, Pittman finds:

Under the Old National warrants formula, Bank of America Corp. would save $2.03 billion, followed by Wells Fargo & Co. at $1.48 billion and JPMorgan Chase & Co. at $1.46 billion. Morgan Stanley’s benefit would be $983 million, Citigroup Inc.’s would come in at $965 million and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. would have $693 million, according to the data compiled by Bloomberg.

If you are concerned about banks’ capital levels, that’s one way to help them out. The alternative, suggested by Wilson and others, would be for Treasury to auction off the warrants; if the bids were too low, it could create a trust, transfer them from Treasury to the trust, and release the banks of any TARP obligations triggered by those warrants.

It also contrasts sharply with the treatment of private (not publicly-traded) banks such as Centra, as documented by David Kestenbaum of Planet Money.

I’ll have more on option pricing later.

By James Kwak

Geithner Plan vs. Paulson Plan

Dennis Snower works out the arithmetic behind the Public-Private Investment Program and shows something that we’ve suspected: if the assets are really toxic (the gap between book value and long-term expected value is big), the subsidy just isn’t big enough. He also shows that if the assets are only a little toxic, the government subsidy induces private sector bidders to overbid, making the subsidy bigger than it needs to be.

Snower’s hypothetical asset has an expected value of $50. According to his calculations:

  • If the bank has it on its books at $70, the private sector will bid it up to $85 because of the government subsidy. The government would have been better off under the original Paulson Plan (just buy it off the bank at book value, in this case $70).
  • If the bank has it on its books above $85, the private sector will not buy it at all and the plan will do nothing.

Now, his asset has different characteristics than the assets out there in the real world, whose expected values are not knowable, let alone known. That may change the analysis, but I doubt it changes the ultimate result.

Thanks to the reader who recommended this.

By James Kwak

First Buy High; Then Sell Low

On Monday last week, Old National Bancorp bought back the warrants it had granted Treasury as part of its participation in TARP, after buying back its preferred stock on March 31. Today, the New York Times ran a story saying that Old National only paid $1.2 million to buy back the warrants, while the warrants were almost certainly worth more.

The main authority cited by the Times was Linus Wilson, a finance professor at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette and a sometime commenter on this blog, so let’s go straight to the source.

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More Accounting Games

The New York Times is reporting that the administration is thinking of stretching its TARP funds further by converting its preferred shareholdings to common stock.

The change to common stock would not require the government to contribute any additional cash, but it could increase the capital of big banks by more than $100 billion.

I hope this is one of those trial balloons they float and later think better of. Most importantly, it makes no sense. That is, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with converting preferred for common, but it doesn’t create anything of value out of thin air. I wrote a long article about preferred and common stock a while back, but here are some of the highlights.

  • If you don’t give a bank any more money, it doesn’t have any more money. By converting preferred into common, you haven’t changed the chances of the bank going bankrupt, because its assets haven’t changed, and its liabilities haven’t changed. If it had enough money to cover its liabilities, but it couldn’t buy back its preferred shares from Treasury, it’s not like the government would have forced it into bankruptcy anyway.
  • If you accept the idea that converting preferred into common creates new capital, then you are implying that those preferred shares weren’t capital in the first place. From a capital perspective, then, the initial TARP “recapitalizations” did nothing, and nothing happens until the conversion. You can’t say that JPMorgan got $25 billion of capital last fall and it’s going to get another $25 billion now just by virtue of the conversion.
  • Tangible common equity and Tier 1 capital are just two ways of measuring the health of a bank. Taking money that wasn’t TCE and calling it TCE doesn’t serve any economic purpose. There is a minor benefit to the bank because now it doesn’t have to pay dividends on the preferred. But otherwise you’ve just shuffled together the claims of the last two groups of claimants – the preferred and the common shareholders. You’ve made things look better from the perspective of the common shareholders as a group, because they no longer have preferred shareholders standing in front of them, but the total amount available to all shareholders hasn’t changed.

Is there another way to explain this even more simply?

Update: I made a mistake in interpretation last night. They aren’t floating a possible strategy here; this is already what is going to happen. I forgot that the Capital Assistance Program already announced by Treasury – the mechanism for giving more capital to banks that need it after the stress tests – specifies the use of convertible preferred shares. So imagine you are a bank with $5 billion in TARP capital already. You issue $5 billion of convertible preferred under the CAP, use the proceeds to redeem the initial TARP, and then – if and when you choose – convert the convertible preferred into common. So the mechanism to do it is there already. I guess they are floating the spin to see if anyone believes this would actually make healthier banks.

Update 2: In case it wasn’t clear from the above, I don’t have any problem with converting preferred for common. I am probably mildly in favor of it, even, for roughly the same reasons as Matt Yglesias: as a taxpayer, I’d rather have the upside and control that come with common shares.

By James Kwak

Why Bail Out Life Insurers?

That’s the question I woke up with this morning. Sad, isn’t it.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that Treasury will soon announce that it will use TARP funds to invest in life insurers, or at least those who snuck under the federal regulatory umbrella by buying a bank of some sort. The argument for the bailout is a version of the “No more Lehmans” theory: the failure of a large financial institution could have ripple effects on other financial markets and institutions that could cause systemic damage. For a bank, the ripple effect is primarily caused by two things: (a) defaulting on liabilities hurts bank creditors, and (b) defaulting on trades (primarily derivatives) hurts bank counterparties, if they aren’t sufficiently collateralized (think AIG).

My thought this morning was that life insurance policies are long-term liabilities that are already guaranteed by state guarantee funds, so we don’t have to worry about (a), and hopefully most life insurers were not doing (b) – large, one-sided bets on credit risk like AIG. So why not just let them fail and let the states take over their subsidiaries? But then I checked the facts, and it turns out that the limits on state guarantee fund payouts are pretty low. So the scenario is this: you hear bad things about your life insurer, you decide to redeem your policy (usually at a significant loss to yourself), turning it into a short-term liability, and then the insurer has to start dumping assets into a lousy market, pushing the prices of everything further down and hurting everyone holding those assets. Would this really cause a systemic crisis worse than we’ve already got? I don’t know, but no one in Washington wants to take that risk.

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