The Geithner Death Star

By Felix Salmon
April 6, 2009

Mike at Rortybomb has a very scary and quite compelling post about the Geithner bank bailout scheme. Basically, he says, it looks very, very similar to the kind of schemes that Enron used to game the market back in the bad old days.

The Death Star strategy (yes, they called it that) was where Enron would take a fee for relieving a congested market of its excess supply by moving it elsewhere. Just like our legacy assets! There are too many of them, it is clogging up trade, let’s get them to someone else who wants them. However Enron would just move the energy in a circle, collecting a fee for not doing what it was supposed to. As their memo famously said, they are paid “for moving energy to relieve congestion, without actually moving any energy or relieving any congestion.” And, it appears, that the large banks are gearing up to do just that; with the Geitner Death Star that they’ll just be collecting a large fee to run them in a circle, without actually moving any of them off their collective books. For old time’s sake, I hope they route their loan bids through Oregon and then Utah before putting them back right where they started.

Mind you that was the electrical grid of California – this appears to be at the scale of the entire financial market. In case you are wondering, traders out there are licking their lips to try and find ways to game this even better than Enron.

The potential hazards here are, clearly, enormous — even without the Administration explicitly rejecting criticism that the banks are going to end up shamelessly bidding on each others’ assets. If the banks get a green light to do this, you can be sure that any number of greedy traders will take that as a green light to get up to as many shenanigans as they can. Many of those greedy traders will try their hand in any event — but if the PPIP is structured so as to try to stop them, then it’s conceivable that they might not do a lot of damage. If the PPIP is structured on a laissez-faire system of all bids being assumed to be legitimate, then this could be an utter disaster.


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You could get even more nostalgic if you’d wish for it. In the words of old “Ben Kenobi” (and the paratroupers) This is what I envisaged long ago:

The World – Mark to Market value please!
BankA (with a small wave of the hand) “You don’t need to see our valuations”
The World – we don’t need to see any valuations!
BankA “These are not the assets you are looking for”
The World – These are not the assets we are looking for!
BankA “You can go about your business”
The World – Go about your business now!
BankA “Carry on”
The World – Carry on!! Carry on!!

Posted by Bagsnatcher | Report as abusive

Geithner’s plan also does not help the multitudes with the toxic assets. Geithner was raised and taught about the same system that brought on the toxic assets; he knows no other way. Good intentions of wanting more people to be able to purchase homes created this mess. Now he wants to put those toxic assets on the backs of the taxpayers so he can give the banks more money to repeat the same system. We are going the wrong way.

His plan as outlined on Sunday, March 29, 2009 news programs has investors gambling five (5) million dollars; the Feds also gambling five (5) million dollars, and the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corp) putting up sixty(60) million dollars to purchase $100,000 face value mortgages discounted to a cost of $70,000. The toxic assets are still overpriced homes in the hands of people unable to pay the mortgage. If the houses that were mortgaged for $100,000 are now only worth $70,000, no buyer or bank will buy or refinance that mortgage at $100,000. The mortgage will default; will be foreclosed and be unlikely to sell. There is no telling what happens to that house before resale. All involved will be losers, the “owner”, the bank, the investor, government and taxpayers.

There are better ways; God has the best way, but until you are willing to call upon Him and trust Him, we will talk about our financial system changes. Our system adds at least $462 a month to the cost of a $100,000 mortgage (assuming a steady 5% interest and ½ % Fannie Mae insurance charge.) God warned against debt, interest, insurance, gambling, seeking riches, honor and pride in all holy books. The banks or investor can erase the interest charges; instead charge a small monthly handling fee. That decreases the cost of the house for the owner by $462 a month ($5,500 a year), making more people able to continue in their homes. (Note: a $200,000 mortgage saves $924 a month and $11,000 a year.) There is now great incentive to stay in the home if possible; if it is not possible, the opportunity for someone else to come in and buy the house is better. The value of the house increases and an investor or bank without government intervention taking some of the profit has a better investment and is not under God’s condemnation for oppressing the poor. (God has an even better plan when we want to turn from our ways to His ways.)

I’m sorry, but did God burn these financial commandments on some new tablets?
Wasn’t it God loving Republicans who got the world into this mess? I’m not terribly convinced about Geithner’s plans, but I’m surprised that God has such a clear plan, and that if it really is coming from God, then where the hell has he been for the last eight years?


Who do you blame for the housing crisis? Republicans? Go check your facts and history again, please. Start with Jimmy Carter and follow through to ol Billy Clinton. Community Housing Act.

It does not matter because with Obama pushing the death toll up of 1.5 million babies each year; we are not going to see anything good come from him. If someone cannot respect life; why would he respect you or I?

Posted by Eric | Report as abusive

Right on target Felix although it gets even worse. The banks WILL invest into funds purchasing assets and WILL loose $10 in order to get rid of toxic asset worth $100. Call it a 10% insurance if you will. Wouldn’t you do the same? Let me explain.

You are the bank and you have $100 (already discounted) assets that you KNOW will flop. You can either write them off and loose $100 OR pay $10 and get rid of them. How? You can – through PPI – invest $10 in PPI which would ‘team up’ with government’s $10, lever it up 5x with FDIC loan and purchase the asset at its $100 value.

Who is going to end up with loss? US taxpayer courtesy of FDIC’s $80 and govt’s $10. In case if you were wondering this was the intention behind the Geithner’s plan – clean up banks books at US taxpayer expense.

God – somebody stop this scam of the millenium!

Posted by Roman Kasan | Report as abusive

For Gods sake, why blame me? Don’t you think I have enough on trying to prevent humanity from destroying my beautiful planet, without having to worry about what they’ve done with all those little pieces of paper (which are biodegradable at least).

If you must incur my name, couldn’t you at least use it to pray together, it might forge some real community spirit and stop you wasting time trying to find someone to blame.

Posted by God | Report as abusive


I like the shell game analogy to Enron, a game I did not watch play out that closely.

We should never forget that 1 percent of the population are sociopaths, and that sociopaths are disproportionately attracted to the worlds of finance and corporate governance.

Posted by Luke Lea | Report as abusive

If you haven’t watched Sal Khan’s Geithner II video, which shows precisely how the banks can game this toxic buy-back plan, watch it now. It will give you nightmares. tI&feature=player_embedded

So the Geithners plan would work as intended: cash for trash and letting future taxpayers pay the bill. But it should have a veneer of legitimacy with the smart hedge fund guys helping out doing their smoke and mirrors act valuating these super comlex toxic assets. However with the banks getting greedy again and openly displaying their primal instincts they could blow the whole ‘smart money doing good work’ cover and expose the pigs gorging in the public trough embarissing Geithner yet again as a stooge.

Posted by Steve | Report as abusive

Going forward, my believers will no longer be so obsessed about fornicating-harlots and “those people”, but will instead worry about how much debt they personally have, and how much debt their government borrows on their behalf.

For the next 200 years GREED will be the focus of my wrath, replacing shame.

Thank you, carry on…

Posted by the REAL god. | Report as abusive