Tag: recapitalization

Henry Paulson, Meet Warren Buffett

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.

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Paulson’s Bank Recapitalization Plan

The big news today is that Henry Paulson claims to have found, in the $700 billion TARP package passed last Friday, the power to invest some of that money directly in banks to shore up their capital. As one of the people who actually read the bill (OK, I skimmed most of it), I was puzzled by this, because my reading (like everyone else’s) was that Treasury would only be allowed to take equity stakes in companies who participated in the sale of troubled assets to Congress. However, if you look at the comments by Congressmen in the Time article and on Calculated Risk, you’ll see that there are statements in the Congressional record saying that the intent of the bill is to allow direct equity purchases. A curious fact that you learn in law school is that, in interpreting a bill, it is not just the words of the bill that matter; the record of committee and floor discussions can also be used in interpreting a bill. So it seems like, in this case, Congress consciously inserted language into the discussion in order to give Treasury this power, or Treasury is seizing on some passages in the discussion to claim that power.

At this point this is unlikely to generate too much controversy, because most people involved, including the authors of this blog, think it would be a good thing for Treasury to take some of the $700 billion and invest it directly in recapitalizing banks (which is what the UK is doing). Of course there will be issues of detail to be worked out, and the Treasury Secretary has an awful lot of discretion in this matter, but this is definitely a step forward.

Oh, and I should mention: Planet Money broke this story first.