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from Rolfe Winkler:

Evening Links 12-23

(Reader note 1: posting will be light through the weekend....taking a few days off)

(Reader note 2: Just saw Avatar, the IMAX 3D version. I highly recommend it.)

Food stamps altering how retailers do business (Maestri/Baertlein, Reuters) "At 11 p.m. on the last day of the month, shoppers flock to the nearest Walmart. They load their carts with food and household items and wait for the midnight hour. That's when food stamp credits are loaded on their electronic benefits transfer cards."

The Protocol Society (Brooks, NYT) "When the economy was about stuff, economics resembled physics. When it’s about ideas, economics comes to resemble psychology."

Treasury to seek easing of bailout fund rules (Somerville, Reuters)

One cheer for Barney Frank (WSJ editorial) WSJ editorials tend not to be very useful, but I thought the last line of this one was notable: "Perhaps the House and Senate should simply ... start over with a new mission for [financial] regulatory reform: break up the too big to fail racket." More evidence that all sides of the political spectrum agree on this. I wonder how they would propose we do it.

from Rolfe Winkler:

Lunchtime Links 12-22

Furlough alert 1--Yahoo imposes week long shut down (Vascellaro, WSJ)

Furlough alert 2 --City of Chicago to shut down Xmas Eve to save cash (CBS2)

TARP deadbeat list grows to 55 (Applebaum, WaPo) Up from 33 banks + AIG last quarter.

Mega-savant Kim Peek dies (Collins, Deseret News) Peek was the inspiration for "Rain Man." What a fascinating brain: "Scientists [recently] learned that Kim could hold a book within eight inches of his face and read the left page with his left eye, the right with his right eye at the same time. He devoured books that way." Much more in the article.

from Rolfe Winkler:

Lunchtime Links 12-8

(Reader note: still working on the bugs....please click "continue reading" to see all the links)

Banks, U.S. spar over TARP repayment (David Enrich) This is the kind of thing that gives me a better feeling about Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke. They are hammering banks to raise equity capital to get out of TARP. They have leverage and are using it productively, forcing bank shareholders to eat losses via dilution so that balance sheets are more stable. Great! Stick to your guns guys!

from Rolfe Winkler:

Evening Links 12-7

Update from this morning: Neel Kashkari joins PIMCO (Ishmael, Alphaville)

TARP cost estimate falls $200 billion (Somerville, Reuters) Even after this latest reduction, the administration still estimates TARP will cost $141 billion. We may be getting more back than we though, but we're not making money. Remember, the Fed still has north of $1.0 trillion or mortgage-backed securities on its balance sheet, the value of which is not clear.

Moody's links option ARM performance with subprime (Golobay, HousingWire) Option ARMs were generally considered "prime" loans based on the credit scores of borrowers. We learned last year, however, that credit scores are less indicative of default rates than negative equity. Negatively amortizing option ARMs, which allow borrowers to make a minimum payment that doesn't even cover interest, have seen their loan balances explode. With prices down, they're so far underwater it makes little sense to pay their mortgage...

from Rolfe Winkler:

TARP may pay down debt

From Deborah Solomon and Jonathan Weisman at WSJ:

The administration wants to keep some of the unspent [TARP] funds available for emergencies, but is considering setting aside a chunk for debt reduction, according to people familiar with the matter. It is also expected to lower the projected long-term cost of the program -- the amount it expects to lose -- to as little as $200 billion from $341 billion estimated in August.

The idea is still a matter of debate within the administration and it is unclear how much impact it would have on the nation's mounting deficit levels. Still, the potential move illustrates how the Obama administration is trying to find any way it can to bring down the deficit, which is turning into a political as well as an economic liability.

A death panel for Citi

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It’s way too soon for the federal government to contemplate reducing its considerable equity stake in Citigroup.

If anything, now’s the time for the feds to finally get tough with the troubled giant and establish a firm deadline for forcing Citi to shrink itself.

from Rolfe Winkler:

Geithner: Some rescue programs will end, others won’t

Tim Geithner testified before the Congressional Oversight Panel for TARP this afternoon. A few interesting comments with respect to Treasury's bailout initiatives:

On PPIP (Public Private Investor Program):

The Treasury will continue ... its plans to buy small-business loans and to remove toxic assets from bank balance sheets through the Public-Private Investment Program, a Treasury official told reporters earlier today on condition of anonymity. The first PPIP funds are expected to begin operating later this month or in October, the official said.

from Rolfe Winkler:

Bailout “profit” is taxpayers’ loss

Charging a bank for an implicit government guarantee to absorb losses? According to the Wall Street Journal, the Federal Reserve and Treasury are demanding that Bank of America pay $500 million to exit a bailout deal that was never actually signed.

That's a nice chunk of change, but taxpayers shouldn't be fooled into thinking this -- or any other bailout -- is a good deal.

Recycle the TARP

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The U.S. insurance fund for bank deposits is running out of money. At the same time, some of the big institutions that received federal bailouts last fall have repaid more than $70 billion to the Treasury Department, and more checks to the government may be in the mail soon.

Right hand, meet left hand.

Indeed, one way of dealing with this looming crisis at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp would be to take all that repaid bailout money and simply inject it into the bank insurance fund. Such a move would instantly bolster the deposit insurance fund, which at the end of June had just $10.4 billion in the kitty.

Aegon raises money to repay the taxpayer

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Aegon headquartersLONDON, Aug 13 (Reuters) – As stock markets rally, a chief executive’s thoughts turn to getting the government off the shareholder register.

The strongest U.S. banks have already shrugged off the TARP, with its tiresome restrictions on executive pay. In Britain, Lloyds Banking Group has toyed with a jumbo capital raising as a way off the hook of the British government’s fiendishly complex asset protection scheme.

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