Tag Archives: bailout

WSJ Editorial Page Favors “Bailout Tax” on Large Financial Institutions

I had a post criticizing John Carney on the topic of bankslaughter. However, I must say I agree with him when it comes to Goldman Sachs. Even more surprising, I largely agree with the Wall Street Journal editorial that Carney links to.

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CIT Battlelines

The issue of the day is obviously CIT.  It’s hard to sort out the real news from clever PR/planted stories in this situation, but it looks like the FDIC is coming out strongly against being involved in a rescue package.  Given Sheila Bair’s successful political positioning and strong popular appeal, it’s hard to see how – once dug in – the FDIC can be moved.

The lobbying frenzy has concentrated on CIT’s role in financing small and medium-sized business; “the recession will be deeper if CIT fails” is the refrain.  This is a weak argument – it would be straightforward to refinance this part of CIT’s business without bailing out CIT’s creditors, and definitely without keeping top CIT executives in place; this is the essence of “negotiated conservatorship,” which is a proven model in the US.

More plausible is the concern that given Treasury’s generous handouts to date for financial firms, if they are now tough on CIT’s creditors, this will send a new signal about how they may treat other firms – and maybe raise fears of Hank Paulson-like flipflopping.   Citigroup’s CDS spread is still at worrying levels, and Treasury/National Economic Council watches this closely – for both organizational and personal reasons. Continue reading

Making Creditors Suffer

Tyler Cowen, co-author of a prominent independent economics blog, has an article in The New York Times explaining “Why Creditors Should Suffer, Too.”

What the banking system needs is creditors who monitor risk and cut their exposure when that risk is too high. Unlike regulators, creditors and counterparties know the details of a deal and have their own money on the line.

But in both the bailouts and in the new proposals [for financial regulation], the government is effectively neutralizing creditors as a force for financial safety.

I couldn’t agree more (except for the bit about the regulatory proposals, and that’s just because I haven’t read them closely). We need creditors who will pull their money or demand tougher terms from financial institutions that are doing things that are either too risky or just plain stupid; that’s theoretically a more efficient and cheaper enforcement mechanism than regulatory bodies.

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The Cultural Costs of Bailout Nation

This post was written, at my request, by Carson Gross, one of our regular readers and a multi-talented person I have worked with in the past. (We met one night when I needed help debugging a classpath error I was getting on my computer.) I don’t necessarily agree with what he says,  but I think he has something valuable to say. Everything below is by Carson.

James asked me to elaborate on a comment in which I worried about the public’s reaction to the real or perceived wealth transfers occurring during this financial crisis – in particular, how that reaction would manifest itself culturally.

“Wealth transfers” is a charged term, and a lot of smart people have spent a lot of time patiently explaining that, in fact, most of the bailout thus far involves loans and that, under some models (which, apparently, don’t include housing prices regressing to roughly 3x incomes, where they have been for most of history) we, the taxpayers, may actually end up making money on this whole thing.  I think that’s fanciful, but I’m not going to debate that here.  Rather, I want to focus on the bailout’s cultural impact.

I assert, without proof, that the proverbial man on the street sees the words “bailout” blaring on his TV and computer screen day in and day out, and doesn’t care to look too deeply into the details.  Who can blame him?  He has enough of his own problems to deal with without attempting to decipher deliberately impenetrable financial jargon.  Even if the government is getting reasonable compensation for the capital injections in some cases, the man on the street just sees more of his tax dollars going into banks to pay out people who make orders of magnitude more money than he’ll ever see.  That’s his reality.

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Reader Questions: Nationalization

If I had infinite time, I would respond to all reader questions and suggestions. Unfortunately, I can’t. But I’m hoping to occasionally post some in-depth responses to some of the tougher questions we get.

Chris Uregian, one of our readers, sent us three questions by email. In summary, he thought that we were overlooking some of the problems with nationalization and the reasons why Treasury might be moving more slowly than we would like. I originally answered him in email but we later decided this would be good to post to everyone, and Chris gave us his permission. I am going to copy his questions here and add a response after each one.

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This Time I’m Not the One Calling It a Subsidy

According to The New York Times and the The Wall Street Journal, the Treasury Department is set to announce its plan for troubled assets early next week. It will include three components. The details aren’t clear since these are anticipatory news stories, but it will be something like this (combining bits of information from the two stories):

  1. The FDIC will create a new entity to buy troubled loans, with the government contributing up to 80% of the capital and the remainder coming from the private sector. The Fed or the FDIC would then provide non-recourse loans* for up to 85% of the total funding (NYT), or guarantees against falling asset values (WSJ), which more or less amount to the same thing.
  2. Treasury will create multiple new investment funds to buy troubled securities, with Treasury contributing 50% of the capital and the rest coming from the private sector. It’s not clear from the news stories, but I think it’s highly likely that these funds will also benefit from either non-recourse loans or asset guarantees.
  3. The Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF) is a program under which the Fed was already planning to buy up to $1 trillion of newly-issued, asset-backed securities** (backed by car loans, credit card receivables, mortgages, etc.). The idea was to stimulate new lending in these categories. This program will be expanded to allow the Fed to buy “legacy” assets – those issued prior to the crisis. This enables the Fed to buy toxic assets off of bank balance sheets.

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Why Bail Out AIG’s Creditors?

Simon and I wrote on op-ed in the New York Times today, trying to debunk the idea that, as we put it, “A.I.G.’s traders are the people that we must depend on to save the United States economy.” The AIG bonus fiasco, as I’ve written earlier, has been particularly useful in raising the political cost of the administration’s current bailout strategy. But, as I said then, “$165 million, of course, is less than one-tenth of one percent of the total amount of bailout money given to AIG in one form or another.” And as far as the cost to the taxpayer is concerned, the big bill is for bailing out AIG’s creditors. In his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today, Lucian Bebchuk wants to know why.

Now, the government has not explicitly guaranteed AIG’s liabilities. But the main reason for bailing out AIG in the first place was the fear that an uncontrolled failure would have ripple effects that would take down many other financial institutions who were dependent in some way on AIG; most commonly, they had bought insurance, in the form of credit default swaps, from AIG and were counting on being paid. And a major usage of bailout money has been to make whole AIG’s counterparties holding those credit default swaps, primarily investment banks trading on their own account or on behalf of their hedge fund customers.

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