Hold your wallet — here is TARP 2

February 12, 2009

 Diana Furchtgott-Roth– Diana Furchtgott-Roth is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor. The views expressed are her own. –

This week Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner unveiled a financial stabilization plan that could cost $2 trillion, in addition to the $790 billion that Congress plans to spend on economic stabilization. All this without any consultation with Congress.

That’s financial stability?

The Dow Jones Industrial average fell almost 400 points Tuesday on the news, and the Asian equity markets followed. This steep decline is symptomatic of the unease that permeates financial markets.

It’s not just the amount of money that is troubling. The markets were also distressed by a lack of detail, especially on how to deal with so-called toxic assets – loans with diminished and uncertain value. The previous Treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, proposed to buy toxic assets, then discovered the difficulties of pricing and so switched to purchases of banks’ preferred stock to infuse capital into the banks.

Geithner promised “to consult closely with Congress” as he moved forward, but Congress has not held hearings on implementing the program, even though it would leverage $1 trillion of Federal Reserve funds and close to that in private-sector funds. The public fears that the $2 trillion dollar bank bailout fund would be just throwing good money after bad.

Last October Congress allocated $700 billion to the Troubled Asset Relief Program. But TARP, with roughly half the funding disbursed, has not yet delivered on its promises. Then, on February 10, it was déjà vu all over again. Geithner declared, “Our plan will help restart the flow of credit, clean up and strengthen our banks, and provide critical aid for homeowners and for small businesses.” He didn’t say how long it would take – because no one knows.

The Geithner plan is another version of TARP, but with more bells and whistles. Banks with assets over $100 billion would be subject to an intensive audit, to measure their capabilities. A Public-Private Investment Fund would purchase troubled assets, although how private money is to be mobilized was unclear.

Carnegie Mellon economics professor Allan Meltzer disagrees with Geithner’s approach. He proposes to allow banks access to government funds only if they can first raise an equivalent sum on their own. If not, it’s off to bankruptcy court they must go, with their competitors free to snap up any worthwhile assets at bargain prices.

The idea behind TARP was not new. Similar programs had successfully been put in place in the Asian banking crisis of the late 1990s. A government agency, a so-called “bad bank,” would buy the toxic assets, paying for them with fresh capital so that the banks could continue to function.

By definition, if the government is purchasing distressed assets it is paying more than the “market price,” more than a private buyer would pay.

Geithner might be better off admitting that these assets will have to be purchased by the Treasury at prices higher than market, and then going to Congress and the American people to make his case. He could say that this will be expensive, but will allow banks to clear underperforming assets off their balance sheet, enabling banks to start lending again. With revived credit markets, the economy can grow.

The implicit reason for going beyond Congress is: “Trust us, we know what we are doing.” Yet Geithner undermined that message by stating that all of this is uncharted territory and that mistakes would certainly be made. Neither the message nor the messenger reassures financial markets. Quite the opposite.

Indeed, Geithner and the Administration may have done what the Democratic leaders, Senator Harry Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi have consistently failed to do – make Congress appear to be the last best hope for responsible government in Washington.

Diana Furchtgott-Roth, dfr@hudson.org, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor.

42 comments

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Whilst I don’t feel particularly qualified to comment on the Geithner plan, it is worth pointing out that the Hudson Institute is a ‘respectable’ mouthpiece for the neo-conservative ideology (Dan Quayle is a supporter, as is Kissinger) that got us into this mess in the first place. So if “my enemy’s friend is my enemy” hold true, I might put my faith is Geithner!

Posted by David Goodfellow | Report as abusive

First, Carnegie Mellon is not one of the top universities. Second, we are tired of the old GOP way of doing things. Third, you are simply restating the obvious, would the situation be any less uncharted with that moron McCain in place? No. Fourth, if I were you, I would retire your logic and encourage those old fossils in the GOP to do likewise. Especially that idiot Limberger [sp]. Pack up your tent, there’s a new sheriff in town. And, by the way, tell Sally I said hello. I was her “junior.”

Posted by Drefus Smith | Report as abusive

The whole mess sickens me! Where is Obama’s promised “transparency”? Why aren’t the people who created the housing collapse with FM and FMack being prosecuted?

Posted by Carol Ford | Report as abusive

The government is using the wrong conduit (banking) to get stimulus into the economy.

A large number of large banks are insolvent. They can’t lend into the market and the assets they hold can’t be rationally priced.

Instead of pouring more trillions into these banks, pour it into the economy directly through government stimulus programs.

Right idea. Wrong conduit.

If the Swiss Banks(UBS&Credit Suisse)have posted losses in the hundreds of billions, and they manage 1/3 of the world’s wealth, do any of us really know the extent of this financial disaster? I am not sure that transparency is possible at this point, and I think we really need to be more protective of our hard assets and intellectual property; and do something about this horrendous “free trade globalization” which is bankrupting the country. The country is being bled dry and cannibalized. Everyone is stealing. The trade imbalance, coupled with these massive losses have blown a 20 trillion dollar hole in our economy.

The people need to know they are on their own. They need to get serious, and prepare for a long drought.

So far Geithner doesn’t appear to HAVE a plan…he sounds suspiciously like Paulson…”just give me a couple of trillion dollars and I’ll fly this thing by the seat of my pants”…PLEASE!!! Toxic assets can’t be purchased anywhere near the ‘real’ market value because it’s pretty close to zero…those banks that haven’t had injections of government cocaine are carrying those same assets on their balance sheets at cost…if our Uncle buys some toxic assets, everyone else must ‘mark to the market’ and a whole new wave of distressed banks are created…we are on a VERY slippery slope destined for a Socialist Republic…Congress and BHO have already ‘capped’ executive compensation in ‘their’ banks, they have told ‘their’ banks to get rid of their jets, they are telling the automobile industry what cars to build and how their executives are allowed to travel, they have the crosshairs on the health care industry and Freddie and Fannie are getting ready to be the world’s biggest slumlord…As Thomas Jefferson once said…”I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the People under the pretense of taking care of them”…

Posted by Lefty McLawhorn | Report as abusive

The rational approach to this crisis is to start a new private specialty bank funded with the taxpayer money. This bank would purchase distressed home loans at a discount. It would refinance those loans at the new low rates that can be supported by the Fed’s rate policy. In return for the assistance from the government, the government takes a stake in the property which amounts to a lien. When the property is sold in the future, the government’s stake is paid off first. Those refinanced loans which stabilize the owner’s ability to pay, can be securitized and sold into the secondary market.

The bigger problem is the credit default swaps. First of all these must be immediately outlawed except by real insurance companies who can meet strict capital reserve requirements. All existing CDS instruments which offset should have a limited time window to wrap up their paperwork. After that they should become null and void. The remaining CDS on the market should be deposited in a national repository for such instruments so that they can be properly accounted for. Those sold without the capital to back them up should become null and void. If the companies do not have the means to return the premium, they should be liquidated.

Distressed credit card and installment debt should have interest rate caps and refinancing required from the debt holders. For those who cannot pay under those terms, bankruptcy should be required.

Posted by Jonathan Cole | Report as abusive

It pays to always remember that the gov’t only works in broad strokes, as it does not do detail at all.

The gov’t first gets the American public on board with it’s “ideas”, then alters the entire plan and pushes the dollar amount the the moon, telling all that its now altered plan “has the support of the people”. Now that’s what you call spin of the highest order, when there is not a shred of truth in it.

Rule#1: Never trust the gov’t when it comes to your money.

Rule#2: Always remember Rule #1.

Posted by richard | Report as abusive

The last time the administration tried to work through congress, the democrats went wild and put in a lot of their ideas (pork) that had to be taken out later. No wonder they don’t want to go that way any more…to get around Pelosi (fire Pelosi)

Posted by Chris E | Report as abusive

While understanding concerns of the general public I must express that the entire basis of this article is completely flawed. I consider myself a liberitarian with open mind to problems and therefore not willing to die for the cause of defending an ideaology. The fact of the matter is that taking the strategy of not pushing hard fast to get the financial system back on track will in fact cost tax payers much, much more money in the long run than a strong effective push to clean out these toxic assets. Second of all the tax payers are not in fact paying anywhere near 2 trillion dollars as mentioned, merely investing albeit in a highly risky set of assets. However, due to the fact that the issue of pricing is that due to the illiquidity in the market there is no market price to base on. Finally, the Private sector involvement is essential in this process because it is this element that will insure that the tax payer does not get “ripped off” given the fact that these folks know how to value these assets better than anyone else. The tax payer, I must admit, will probably benefit less due to the insurance that will come at our expense for the involvement of private capital to actually happen. However, in the midst of the unique and grave situation we are currently in this solution I trust is taking the best of an array of very dark options. If strong and decisive action is not taken fast the US and with it probably the rest of the world could end up sinking into a Great Depression style scenario.

Posted by Alberto Duhau | Report as abusive

Interesting to hear an arch Conservative even hint at letting the big (bad) banks go bankrupt. It’s a painful idea, they say, but when you talk about toxic assets that could be worth pennies on the dollar when the dust settles, and banks that show no reduction in the bleeding of red ink (courtesy of the taxpayer, and what in the USA is truly good for a loan these days anyway?), could it be time to cut losses?

The toxic assets remind me of some higher math. What are they worth? Name any sum at all and they may be worth less.

Maybe we should save that freshly-printed money for food, shelter and Social Security. Pretend it’s an earthquake or a hurricane or something. But fiscal stimulus is good, just until the spiral is arrested at a tenable point, and if you spend it rather than handing it out, people get work, and get the money anyway, and the country gets whatever those people built. More slowly, I admit.

Posted by Pete Cann | Report as abusive

I can understand the idea of borrowing from the future and spending today. I also understand selling debt in order to gain cash. What I am not sure about is who has the resources on the sidelines to buy trillions of dollars worth of debt. If our intention is simply to print cash without any entries on the other side, printing cash creates cash. There should be no impact to debt. If we are floating debt, I am trying to understand why I have not seen new issues on the retail side. If debt is being sold on the institutional side, I do not see the net benefit since banks have most of our money. So in light of the information, as far as I can tell we are being scammed into thinking that the government is financing a large expenditure program. This leads me to believe that people are stealing.

Posted by Don | Report as abusive

Is anybody in Washington thinking about the fact that there is a limit to what the government can spend, even in a good cause, before the currency is diluted and the value goes down? At some point, the country could run out of credit and even the Chinese won’t lend to us. Nobody really knows what that point is but it’s out there somewhere and we need to beware of it.

I really do not trust Geithner who failed to pay for his taxes and was incredibly confirmed in Congress. Geithner did not care about paying his taxes, and got away with murder.In the future, member of the minority groups will try to do the same, and when caught, they will use his failure to pay taxes as an justifie excuse, by saying that If he was able to do it, so can they.

Posted by George | Report as abusive

The only way out of this mess is to bankrupt the major banks. Then, confiscate all of the assets of those who made money in the banking industry to create a real, meaningful “moral hazard.” Then deal with the inflation that results from a intentionally massively devalued currency.

While I don’t approve much of the former administration … I’m at a loss why W is the only one to blame. The demos controlled both the house and senate since 2007 … what gives???

The central problem of a depression or severe recession remains the same: How do you expunge debt from the system without crashing the system?

Posted by Malcolm | Report as abusive

Let the BAD BAD Banks fail. It’s a simple solution or everyone will pay the price. The market has to correct itself, and not create an articial market that can never last.

Posted by S Fernandes | Report as abusive

I find it strange that so many are willing to blame the current financial mess on free market principles and want to find some other way to get out of the mess. The truth is we are in this mess because our businesses and government have strayed far away from free market principles and have deceived the public into accepting inflated values for public companies, real estate and money.
The answer to resolving this mess is not supporting the current system with more debt. This will just delay and intensify the crash when it comes. We may have to swallow the bitter pill of letting the failed private institutions fail and let failed government policies go by the wayside. Then rebuild the structure from the ashes on the principles of the free market.
The first thing I learned about business is “there is no free lunch”. I am concerned that we have reached the point in our republic and the world that it is time for both politicians and businessmen to pay for all of the free lunches that they have been given over the last decades.

Posted by Craig Coal | Report as abusive

Let it be known, actually confirmed, that the United States of America is, and has been for the past 2 decades, in only one business. ONE business:

DIGGING HOLE BY DROPPING BOMBS

(Hole, not holes, because it drops bombs into the same hole to make it ever larger.)

Geithner is the latest bombardier.

Posted by TomK | Report as abusive

Would the politic bashing please stop. If you are foolish enough to think this GLOBAL crisis was caused by one American political party or the other, or one American leader or another, then you are sadly out of touch with reality. Assigning your own prejudiced blame to someone for what they did today or a year ago is a waste of time. If you have better ideas than the politicians, then state them, and back them up with REAL fact. Foolish bickering and intransigence will solve nothing.

Posted by BB king | Report as abusive

The banks are INSOLVENT, and too big to fail. The only option is to nationalize them, run them for utility sake only, and hope that the day will come when they can be sold to the private sector and some of the cost will be recovered. The free market conservatives got their way and destroyed everyone. They have totally destroyed any credibility they might have had, revealing themselves as the shills for the economic crooks and rapists who have destroyed the economy.

Posted by DaveB | Report as abusive

A couple of trillion here and a couple of trillion there… and very soon it adds up to real money.

Let’s take a look at the last available figures: the federal revenues for 2008 were $2.524 trillion. The expenditures for the same period were $2.979 trillion (and this figure does not reflect the Fanny’s, Freddie’s, TARP 1, et al expenses… – this is just to ‘put bread on the table’, so to speak). So for 2008, the federal burn-rate was around $0.5 trillion more than their income (and that is a conservative estimate). This did not require anything special… it is just the natural deficit.

Now… what will happen in 2009? First of all, revenues will be down. Why? Simple. Less taxes. Less employed people, less corporate profit, yada yada yada. By how much? Don’t know yet, but it looks bad – but let’s say $2 trillion, just to base-line. Second, expenditures will be up. Why? Simple again… ambitious civil service programmes (which will be subject to greater strains than in the past), job creation schemes, and economic bailouts. By how much? Well, we start with a conservative $3 trillion, add another $3 trillion for all the rescue packages, and we’re looking at $6 trillion. That means that the feds need to find $4 trillion to make ends meet in 2009.

They cannot raise it through taxes. Nor can they raise all of it through investment. So the delta will have to be made up with loans… and these have to be paid back at some stage – difficult to do if your natural financial state is a deficit.

Where does this leave the feds? In my opinion, with enough powder for only one shot. So that means that they must aim at the right target.

Let’s take a look at that target (and pardon the following over-simplification). Why are assets toxic? Two reasons: due to the risk of repayment defaults and due to negative equity. Why is there a risk of repayment defaults? Because the borrower does not have the money… he is unemployed. Why is there negative equity? Because demand is down. Why is demand down? Nobody is buying. Why is nobody buying? Because the buyer does not have the money… he is unemployed.

In my opinion, the feds should spend the money… but spend it right. Spend it on getting people earning again. Not on tax breaks (what’s the point of a tax break if I’m not paying tax?) Nor on banks – they still cannot lend, because that asset is still toxic.

Spend it on the people… that is the only chance of getting the money back in the future. And it is the only way out of this hole.

Posted by Quintin | Report as abusive

I’m going into the wheelbarrow business.

Posted by Dick Diamond | Report as abusive

I’m going into the wheelbarrow business. I will probably buy some used wheelbarrows that were used in Germany in the 1920′s.

Posted by Dick Diamond | Report as abusive

Congress and W. got us into this mess. To expect Congress to get us out????……we can’t fight wars without raising taxes. Duh!

Posted by Jerry | Report as abusive

Toxic assets? Funding them should be a simple exercise of buying out the outstanding balances; reduce the interest rate and make them interest only for five years, or some other period.

When the borrower’s earnings are at a certain percentage of the oustanding balance then principal repayments kick in again.

The funding could come from pension funds buying mortgage bonds from Treasury at a fixed rate of interest.

It may be too simple but its probably worth a try if it opens up bank lending for new projects and for small business, how many Americans are employed in small (up to 100 employees) business?

Posted by Gilloigan | Report as abusive

I wrote a column on electric cars saying much the same as Brian. It received many comments, and can be seen here:
http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/20 08/12/18/electric-cars-will-not-cure-env ironmental-woes/

Diana

Posted by Diana Furchtgott-Roth | Report as abusive

They do not know where came from the problem but they want fix it…

Posted by blablabla | Report as abusive

These so called stimulus packages are utter economic insanity. Our free enterprise system was built on consumer choice. Whoever suggested it was right — give every taxpayer a check for $10,000, and its their choice as to where they spend it, save it or invest it. Consumerism (economic strength) works from the bottom up, not the top down, so lets activate the economy immediately from the bottom, with the consumer. No bailouts.

Posted by JJ Beanthere | Report as abusive

The recent ‘grilling’ of the banks’ CEO’s by the congress was a pathetic theater for the public. I was amazed at the lack of understanding of the situation either party has. Sadly the bankers came out on top. Why? Well I am not sure what the objectives were but everyone seems to blame the bankers for hoarding cash. They know it so why bother being brave, after the incompetence already shown, there is no motivation. Rightly so, the bankers are accountable to the shareholders. The questioning should have gone along the following lines ..and please nex time ask not the whole panel but individuals one by one:

1) Hands up who thinks he’s doing a good job?
2) Recite your company’s credo?
3) Hands up who thinks he’s doing a good job?
4) What does it mean to you ‘doing a good job’ give recent examples.
5) Would you lend money to the other bankers around the table, right now? Be prepared to justify your answer.
6) Under what conditions would you do it. Be specific.
7) What measure of responibility for losses in your firm do you accept? Be prepared to justify your answer.
8) Are you prepared to set an example for others to follow ?
9) Which one of you is prepared to work temporarily without a salary / give it to a charity / use it to safe jobs?
10) Give one reason why a failure should be rewarded.

Posted by Franz Kafka | Report as abusive

What happens when toxic assets become desirable? When their value starts going up, the crisis is over. The mortgage plan rather than the bank capitalization programs will eventually turn the assets around. Owners of toxic assets will start looking smart again. The point is that rather than helping banks, government should make sure that families can weather the storm without defaulting and that young couples start purchasing homes. The mortgage plan is a first step.

It is obvious that the pervassive flawed concept of the “Trickle down” apporach to solving the bigest financial disaster in hisotry, is still concidered to be the top priority by those we entrust to solve it and they in turn go back to those that created it in the first place with more trillions at their disposal to solve it. The time has come to change this concept and trust the people, in growing the economy from the bottom up, which is a natural progression of things when you want to grow something you start from the ground up and not from the top down. In my opinion the only thing that trickles is —-nothing and by the time anything does it is too little too late

Posted by Nick | Report as abusive

I propse the consideration of the Treasure taking the toxic assets from a given bank, selling them at market and giving the bank the proceeds plus a non-interest bearing Treasury bond that the bank in question could redeem at face after ten years. In the interim such bonds would revert to preferred shares in that Bank. If the bank could not or did not redeem the Government loan, the shareholders’ equty would be diminished accordingly. The positive reslt wold be that loanable funds would be increased by the amount of the TOXIC ASSET at face.

Let me get this straight. We pay taxes to the government, government loans money to banks, then the banks lend money back to us and charge us interest. Does that just about sum it up?
Pouring money into the banks were the worst idea to begin with. That initial $700 billion would be about $3000 to each individual Americans and that extra 2 trillion would be 9 grand to us. Just let us keep that money and we will put them into banks so they can lend or spend in the economy to stimulate it.
Or at least spend them to corporates so they can keep jobs. Anything but throwing money into banks so they can bubble it up and incinerate them.

instead of taking tax payer dollars to help the banks, wall street, aig, & people who bought more house than they could afford, *****give all homeowners a chance to refinance their homes, no questions asked at a reasonable interest rate. also give this low interest rate to anyone interested in buying a home. this will help everyone, not just a select few. anyone who bought a house during the boom is now upside down, but many of us continue to make our house payments on time.

Iceland. Look at what happened there(to their currency and government) and you will know the truth of the last 10 years.

A lot of talk and not much action. One blames the banks the other blames the past Pres. another congress. They have tried giving money to people last year , it did not work. They tried giving money to banks, that did not work also. The current stimulus package will not do anything for 6 months or longer. The only way to do something today is to do what Bush said after 9/11 — every body go out and buy something. Since the people didnot buy anything with the income tax stimulus that only leaves the gov’t to be a large buyer TOMORROW and not give away any more money.
If the gov’t annouces Teusday after Pres. Day that it is going to buy $10 Billion of cars, $50 Billion of houses at auction rates. Then also buys $5 Billion of stoves, refrigerators, TV, airconditioners, carpet and flooring, and other such stuff and store it in empty warehouses until bidding contracts can be made to refurbish the base housing on all military bases and gov’t hospitals( a few months ago WalterReed Hosp. was in the news for poor service and facilities).
This would put many people back to work tomorrow not in 6 months or a year rebuilding long term projects like highways. They could buy Tuesday what companies have in stock and the companies would immeadieately resupply their warehouses and refurbishing gov’t buildings would put many self=employed workers( carpenters. plumbers, bricklayers) back to work making money and paying taxes and buying things.
The purchased houses could be given to 100% disabled vets and surviours dependents. All military bases have recreational facilities for service members, these could be resupplied with boats, fishing gear, baseball bats and other gear that would stimulate all parts of the economy not just give money to bankers to buy out their compition and rat hole the rest to buy out more later.

Posted by Rick | Report as abusive

Changing the “mark to market” accounting rule would go a long ways in fixing the bank problems. Using the historical payment rate plus an additional projected default factor to evaluate the assets would solve the so called toxic asset problem for a lot of banks.

Why hasn’t this approach been considered? Because if solved the mindless people in congress and the executive branch would loose their reason to control and bully around the banks.

I own stock in several banks. Below are 2 excepts from a letter I received frm one of the banks.

“— with total capital of $758 million, Corus Bank’s capital ratios (as shown in the Call Report mentioned above) were above the numerical calculations of “well-capitalized” as of December 31, 2008. Nevertheless, bank regulators have broad authority to either reduce a bank’s capital classification below what the numerical ratios would otherwise indicate or simply set higher capital thresholds. Based on recent discussions with the Bank’s regulators, management believes it is likely that the Bank will be held to higher capital standards in the near future and, as such, may no longer be considered well-capitalized and may be required to identify additional sources of capital.”

“TARP Funds:
In an attempt to address the issues many banks are facing, the U.S. Treasury Department has made funds available to certain banks under its Troubled Asset Relief Program Capital Purchase Program (the “Program”). As previously disclosed, the Company submitted its application for funds under the Program on November 14, 2008. The Company has received a preliminary response from the Treasury Department indicating that they intend to reject our application.”

So at this time there is adequately capitalized bank which will deliberative be forced out of business.

We have met the enemy and found it to be (our?) goverment.

Posted by Gary | Report as abusive

I like how these pundits can describe what the market does and thinks. I imagine she is some ultra rich capatalist who has made billions from her keen insights and superb market timing.

Oh she is a former government employee on the dole……. Whining about her former employer. Good thing that there are government jobs for these people to cultivate these brillant ideas. She really makes me feel secure that government dollars are not wasted on academics.

Posted by R G | Report as abusive

The government would do well to truly listen to the people, all the people, because many are talking about taking their money out of the banks. The emails are going around, the attitude is that Washington D. C. is living in some type of Holy than Thou state, and has little concern for the people or what they think is best. We’re not all that ready to pay for the mistakes that were made in lending to those not capable of making payments, nor are we jumping up and down to let the politicians handle the mess they made by throwing the nation into a state of terminal debt. The government and the banks need to wake up and realize that there are still Americans that have to work to pay off these huge packages…we are the people that have been the backbone of this nation. We’re not economists, politicians, or groups charged with demoting or promoting racial and international peace, we’re just the working stiffs from every denomination, race, and nationality whose blue collars have kept the politicians living on cloud 9 while the rest of beat out a living the best we know how.

Posted by Donna | Report as abusive

I get tired of politictions telling me they know what I
need as I have never talked to them, what makes them so
sure they now my needs.
As for the banks, let those high rollers go bankrupt and
give the bailout money back to the taxpayer from whose
pocket they picked to began with.
I am on a fixed income and tired bailing out some one
who has gotten away with it.
If gov’t. wants to do something try triming the fat off
the hogs back instead of his ankles.