Tag: recapitalization

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.)

Continue reading “The Two Sides of the Balance Sheet”

The Importance of Battlefield Nuclear Weapons

I’ve been writing a lot about the game of chicken recently, most often in connection with the GM and Chrysler bailouts. On the Chrysler front, the game is in its last hours. Even after a consortium of large banks agreed to the proposed debt-for-equity swap, some smaller hedge funds are holding out for more money, and even the extra $250 million that Treasury agreed to kick in seems unlikely to keep Chrysler out of bankruptcy.

The problem is that bankruptcy is the only weapon Chrysler and Treasury have in this fight, and it’s a strategic nuclear weapon. Bankruptcy is the only threat that can get the bondholders to agree to a swap; but because a bankruptcy carries some risk of destroying Chrysler (because control will lie in the hands of a bankruptcy judge – not Chrysler, Treasury, the UAW, or Fiat), and taking hundreds of thousands of jobs with it, everyone knows that Treasury would prefer not to use it. The bondholders are betting that they can use Treasury’s fear of a bankruptcy to extract better terms at the last minute. (And it’s even possible that the large banks agreed to the swap knowing they could count on the smaller, less politically exposed hedge funds to veto it.) But Treasury may still press the button, because it needs to make a statement in advance of the bigger GM confrontation scheduled for a month from now.

But there’s a much bigger, slower game going on at the same time, and the administration’s basic problem is the same: all it has is strategic nuclear weapons that it absolutely does not want to use. The New York Times had an article today about how “a growing number of banks are resisting the Obama administration’s proposals for fixing the financial system.”  It didn’t have a lot of new information, but it summarized the outlines of the game.

Continue reading “The Importance of Battlefield Nuclear Weapons”

No, Wait! You Got It Backwards!

AKA, Convertible Preferred Stock for Beginners.

There is nothing inherently wrong with convertible preferred stock. In Silicon Valley, for example, venture capitalists almost always invest by buying convertible preferred. The idea is that in the case of a bad outcome, the VCs are protected, because their shares have priority over the common shares held by the founders and employees. Say the VCs put in $10 million for 1 million shares, and the founders and employees also have 1 million shares, so the company immediately after the investment is worth $20 million. If the company liquidates for $15 million, the preferred shares have a “preference,” which means they get their $10 million back (often with a mandatory cumuluative dividend as well) first, and the common shareholders take the loss. However, in a good outcome, the VCs can exchange their preferred shares one-for-one for common. So if the company gets sold for $100 million, the VCs convert, and they now own 50% of the common stock, so they get $50 million.

When I heard that the government was going to give future capital as convertible preferred stock, and perhaps change some of the previous capital injections to convertible preferred, I thought this was a good thing. It would give the taxpayer more upside potential, and it would also give the government the option to take over the banks simply by converting its preferred stock to common whenever it wanted.

But the key in the Silicon Valley example is that the VCs have the option to convert or not. The Treasury Department’s new Capital Assistance Program has this precisely backwards.

Continue reading “No, Wait! You Got It Backwards!”

Ten Questions For Secretary Geithner

Next week, Tim Geithner will have an opportunity to explain his plans for the financial system (Cash Room of the Treasury, Monday, 12:30pm), and defend these plans in front of the Senate Banking Committee (Tuesday, starting at 10am) and Senate Budget Committee (Wednesday, also from 10am). 

Here are the questions (in bold) we would ask him.  And, just in case any of you are involved in preparing the Secretary’s briefing book, we also suggest some answers. Continue reading “Ten Questions For Secretary Geithner”

Sweden for Beginners

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

With the regularity of a pendulum, the focus of discussion has swung back to the banking system (September: Lehman and AIG; November: Citigroup; January: Bank of America, and everyone else). And as everyone waits in anticipation for the Obama team’s first big swing, there has been increased discussion of . . . Sweden, including a recent New York Times article and a fair amount of blog activity, with a broad overview by Steve Waldman. (For other accounts, see this Cleveland Fed paper and a review of the crisis published by the Swedish central bank (which, according to Wikipedia, is also the world’s oldest central bank).)

Why Sweden? Because Sweden had its own financial crisis in the early 1990s, and by many accounts did a reasonably good job of pulling out of it. A housing bubble, fueled by cheap credit, collapsed in 1990, with residential real estate prices falling by 25% in real terms by 1995 and nonperforming loans reaching 11% by 1993, while the Swedish krona fell in value by 30%, hurting a banking sector largely financed by foreign funds. As Urban Backstrom said in a 1997 paper, “[the] aggregate loan losses [of the seven largest banks] amounted to the equivalent of 12 percent of Sweden’s annual GDP. The stock of nonperforming loans was much larger than the banking sector’s total equity capital.” In other words, the banking sector as a whole was broke.

Continue reading “Sweden for Beginners”

The Emerging Political Strategy For Bank Recapitalization

Here’s a tough problem. 

  1. The nation’s leading banks are short of capital, and only the government can provide the scale of resources needed to recapitalize, clean up balance sheets, and really get the credit system back into shape.  Any sensible approach will put some trillions of taxpayer money at risk.  We should get most of it back but – as we’ve learned – things can go wrong.
  2. Everyone hates bankers right now, and these feelings only deepen as we learn more about how the first part of the TARP was spent and mis-spent.  No one wants to hear about anything that sounds like a bailout to bankers and their careers.

How does the Administration and Congress sort this one out?  This weekend we seeing an approach take shape which, most likely, will work.  There are five closely related moving pieces. Continue reading “The Emerging Political Strategy For Bank Recapitalization”

To Lend or Not To Lend, Fed Edition

This is so brilliant I’m going to just copy Mark Thoma’s entire post right here:

Tim Duy emails:

Discordant headlines in Bloomberg:

Fed’s Kohn Says Regulators Should Encourage More Bank Lending Amid Turmoil: U.S. regulators should rise to the “challenge” of encouraging an expansion in bank lending amid a weakening economy and continuing financial-market turmoil, Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Donald Kohn said.

Fed’s Kroszner Urges Banks to Increase Capital Reserves to Buffer Losses: Federal Reserve Governor Randall Kroszner urged banks to hold more reserve capital to protect themselves from future “cascading losses,” as potential market fixes are “no guarantee” against another credit crisis.

It’s nice to see the Fed getting its communication problems under control.

This is the inconsistency I pointed out in the goals of the financial sector bailout. Banks need new capital to protect themselves against falling values of their existing assets. But if they use the new capital to make new loans, you defeat the purpose of the new capital, because that new capital is no longer helping support the existing assets. These are two separate and somewhat contradictory goals. Note that, according to Bloomberg (see the second link above), financial institutions have taken $978 billion in writedowns – so far – and raised only $872 billion in new capital. So while politicians rail against banks that took TARP money but haven’t expanded lending, the banks at least have logic on their side. I’ve been surprised that no one in Washington that I’m aware of has been willing to point this out.

(And do visit Mark’s blog – it’s a great place to get a variety of perspectives, updated throughout the day.)

Bank Recapitalization Options and Recommendation (After Citigroup Bailout)

By Peter Boone, Simon Johnson, and James Kwak (pdf version is here)


1.       Debt and equity prices for U.S. banks at the close on Friday, November 21, indicated that the market is testing the resolve of the government to support the banking system. Allowing major banks to fail is not an option, as was made explicit in the G7 statement in mid-October. Significant recapitalization will be necessary to stem the pace of global deleveraging (the contraction of loans and sale of assets by banks around the world). However, the administration’s strategy is not clear.

2.       While full bank recapitalization is not a panacea, it is an important part of the policy mix that will get us through mid-2009, at which point a broader set of expansionary fiscal and – most important – monetary policies can begin to take effect.

3.       The response this weekend by the U.S. authorities in providing financial support to Citigroup is a partial, overly generous, and nontransparent recapitalization, including a large guarantee for distressed assets – which is very close to the asset purchases that Treasury only last week said it would not do.  This U-turn confuses the market (again), leaves the fate of other major banks unclear, and implies much larger contingent liabilities and little upside for the taxpayer.  This approach will be difficult to repeat multiple times because of likely political backlash.

4.       The most important goal now is to put in place a stable, transparent set of rules for bank recapitalization, with sufficient political support and limits on the scope for further policy changes.  Mr. Paulson’s seemingly haphazard approach has become a part of the system problem.

5.       While all recapitalization options have problems, the “least bad” is requiring firms to raise more capital and, for those that cannot, injecting capital through substantial purchases of common stock by the government. These can be managed through a special purpose agency or control board, which is designed to keep credit from becoming politicized and to sell the equity stakes when market conditions are sufficiently supportive.

6.       Another TARP-type round, on slightly tougher terms than October, may serve as an emergency stop-gap measure, but it will not solve the underlying problems and any positive effects could be short-lived.

Continue reading “Bank Recapitalization Options and Recommendation (After Citigroup Bailout)”

Banks At Serious and Immediate Risk, Again

Despite the shot of confidence provided by the recapitalization program in mid-October, equity prices and CDS spreads indicate investors are getting nervous about banks again – and some may even be betting that they will fail, or at that equity holders will be wiped out. As the recession deepens, banks’ assets (not only mortgage-backed securities, but loans in all forms) are falling in value, increasing the chance that the government will need to step in again with more capital. Peter and Simon have a guest post at Real Time Economics (WSJ) on the options – none of them pretty – that the government has.

The Bailout: Yes, But Will It Work?

Every week, it seems, we see a new high-water mark for government intervention in the financial sector, culminating (?) in today’s announcement that the government is buying $125 billion of preferred stock in nine banks, with another $125 billion available for others. The recapitalization, loan guarantees, and expanded deposit insurance are the most aggressive steps taken yet in the U.S. and were all on on our list of recommendations.

I think it is highly likely that today’s actions will boost confidence in the banking sector. First, the banks involved have fresh capital; second, they can raise new debt more easily thanks to the loan guarantees; and third, because the U.S. government is now a major shareholder, it is even less likely that the government will let one of them fail. I could be wrong, but I think worries about bank defaults, at least for participating banks, will start to recede.

The next question, however, is what the impact will be on lending to the real economy, and here the outlook is less certain. In a press conference today, Paulson said, “The needs of our economy require that our financial institutions not take this new capital to hoard it, but to deploy it.” However, it’s not clear that he has the tools to compel the banks to increase lending. The terms of the investment are relatively favorable to the banks – 5% dividend, no conversion to common, no voting rights (unless the dividends are not paid for several consecutive quarters). So the self-interested thing for banks to do may be to take the cash and pay down higher-yielding debt on their books. Hopefully as the financial system returns to normal banks will go back to doing what they usually do, which is lend money.

All that said, I think we’re still in better shape than two days ago.

Some people have asked me how you can tell if the bailout, or anything else the government is trying, is working, since the stock market is largely noise. I’m no expert here, so I’ll point you to a couple of other measures of the credit market that people have recommended. One is the TED spread (3-month LIBOR minus 3-month T-bills; explanation here), a measure of banks’ willingness to lend to each other as opposed to buying Treasury bills, which came down today (which is good). The blog Calculated Risk also recommends a few metrics you can look at.


See here for a range of views (including Simon’s). On balance, the government owns some shares – and it twisted some arms to get them – but the percentages are pretty low, it has no voting rights, the conditions are pretty light (basically just the limits on executive compensation), and the bottom line is that the banks got a pretty good deal relative to what they might have hoped for from private investors. Some will no doubt complain of socialism, but these investments give the government limited if any influence over bank operations.

Of course, the government still has the power of regulation, which most people expect (and hope) will be greatly strengthened.

Bank Recapitalization Arrives in the U.S.

As you have no doubt heard by now, the U.S. joined most of Western Europe in announcing a bank recapitalization plan and additional guarantees on bank obligations this morning. The key details are:

  • $250 billion of TARP money will go to the program, with about $125 billion already allotted to 8 banks (9 including Merrill) who were given take-it-or-leave-it offers yesterday.
  • The government will generally put in between 1% and 3% of assets held by a participating bank.
  • Most if not all banks will be eligible; it’s not clear what happens if the $250 billion is oversubscribed.
  • The government gets non-voting perpetual preferred shares (no conversion to common), callable after 3 years, with a 5% dividend, increasing to 9% after 5 years.
  • The government also gets warrants to buy common shares up to 15% of the preferred investment.
  • Although the shares are non-voting, participating companies have to follow Treasury guidelines on executive compensation and corporate governance.

In addition, the government announced  a blanket deposit guarantee on non-interest-bearing deposits and a 3-year guarantee of new senior debt issued by banks.

This is definitely at least two steps in the right direction. Nevertheless, some concerns to think about are:

  1. Is it enough money? 1-3% of assets isn’t much if we are worried about additional writedowns. Besides the writedowns we expect on mortgage-backed securities, a recession will increase losses on all types of loans. Fortunately I don’t see any reason why more of the $700 billion couldn’t go into this program if warranted.
  2. Couldn’t we have gotten a better deal? Buffett got a 10% dividend and more warrants at a cheaper price on his Goldman investment. However, this plan was structured to protect the interests of existing shareholders to maximize the chances that banks would participate, which may have been the right tradeoff.
  3. How do we make sure the banks behave sensibly in the future? By getting non-voting shares – as opposed to the UK plan, which will allow the government to appoint bank directors – Treasury has given up one form of control, presumably to avoid charges that the government is meddling in bank operations. This just means that regulation will be especially important.

Although the stock market is moving sideways, the credit market seems to be mildly positive: yields on 3-month T-bills are up 20 basis points (meaning that less money is fleeing to quality) and the TED spread is down 33 basis points (meaning banks are more willing to lend to each other).

US Bank Recapitalization: Waiting for Kashkari

The US stock market soared upward today, partly on the announcements by every major European country that they will be protecting their banking sectors, but largely on the expectation that the US will take similar measures – namely, bank recapitalization and loan guarantees – in the next couple of days. A fair amount of attention was drawn to the following statement by Neel Kashkari this morning:

4) Equity purchase program: We are designing a standardized program to purchase equity in a broad array of financial institutions. As with the other programs, the equity purchase program will be voluntary and designed with attractive terms to encourage participation from healthy institutions. It will also encourage firms to raise new private capital to complement public capital.

However, a couple things should be pointed out. First, this was #4 out of 7 initiatives that Kashkari’s team is working on, including buying mortgage-backed securities, buying whole mortgages, insuring MBS, etc. So as I said on WNYC this afternoon (clip may not be up yet), this isn’t really new information. Second, the program is voluntary. This means that bank shareholders can take it or leave it; if they don’t like the terms the government is offering, they can choose to stay out on the thin ice and hope it doesn’t break. I’m not saying the government should be forcibly nationalizing banks, but this does raise a potential issue. Third, it is designed only for “healthy institutions,” which raises the question of who is healthy today. Perhaps the idea is to shore up a few major banks and let them buy up assets from the others – a plausible strategy – but it isn’t clear.

Luckily, word is that something will be announced tomorrow, so we won’t have long to wait. If you get any early leaks, please share.

Bank Recapitalization Monday

Those of you reading the news may be having trouble keeping all of this morning’s events straight. Here’s a quick summary:

  1. The UK announced specific plans to recapitalize three of its largest banks – RBS, HBOC, and Lloyds TSB – with up to 37 billion pounds of government money. Separately, Barclays announced plans to raise money independent of the government. This seems to be the implementation of a plan that was announced last week.
  2. Mitsubishi finally closed its deal to invest $9 billion in Morgan Stanley, gaining a 10% dividend on its shares (similar to Buffett’s investment in Goldman). This deal, which had been pending for weeks and some had given up for dead, will help boost confidence in Morgan Stanley. Note that unidentified sources have claimed that the US government promised to protect Mitsubishi’s investment; it’s not clear if that’s part of the final deal.
  3. The Federal Reserve and several of its counterparts announced an expansion in the supply of credit to banks around the world in US dollars. The Fed said it will make available as many dollars as the other participating central banks need. They will then lend the money out to their banks against whatever collateral is appropriate under their rules. This is another move to increase liquidity in the financial system; however, for several weeks now it’s been apparent that liquidity alone is not enough to solve the problem.
  4. Following yesterday’s agreement in principle, major Eurozone countries are announcing their rescue plans today, including both bank guarantees and recapitalization. Germany announced 400 billion euros to guarantee bank loans and 80 billion euros for recapitalization; France announced 320 billion for loan guarantees and 40 billion for recapitalization; Spain passed legislation providing 100 billion for loan guarantees and allowing the government to recapitalize banks by buying shares. I believe Italy is expected to make an announcement soon.

In summary, governments are taking the kind of steps that are necessary to halt the crisis. Loan guarantees and bank recapitalization are two of the steps we have been advocating. However, the jury is still out on whether they are coordinated and decisive enough. The much-followed TED spread (a measure of banks’ willingness to lend to each other) is only down by 7 basis points, although that may in part be due to the fact that the bond market is closed in the US today due to a holiday. All eyes are now on Washington, where a more definitive bank recapitalization plan is widely expected. Neel Kashkari, Paulson’s point man on the crisis, said today only that “We are designing a standardized program to purchase equity in a broad array of financial institutions.” (He said a lot of other things on a broad range of other topics.) Finally, this burst of support for wealthy countries’ banks could have unintended effects on emerging markets, as we discussed previously.

Update: Austria, the Netherlands, and Italy are also on board.