Opinion

The Great Debate

from Commentaries:

Geithner of Oz

Earlier today I wrote that Sheila Bair is one of the few financial regulators who gets it. And by getting it, I mean not sucking up to the banks and the big money interests on Wall Street. You know, the guys (and most of them are guys), who got us into this financial mess. Tim Geithner, on the other hand, is a regulator who just doesn't get it.

It's not that the Treasury secretary isn't smart--he is. And it's not that he's not up to job--he is. It's that Geithner is too much of a politician and his views have been molded by people who work on Wall Street.

So, that's why we have Geithner telling The Wall Street Journal today that Wall Street isn't reverting back to its old ways--even though everything indicates that's exactly what is going on. In Geithner's world, things are getting better and the banks are becoming better citizens:

I don't think the financial system is reverting to past practice, and we won't let that happen. The big banks are running with much less leverage now, much more conservative liquidity cushions. There has been a significant shrinking of their balance sheets, getting rid of bad assets and cleaning up. And the weakest parts of the system don't exist anymore.

But Geithner lives in the land of Oz. A land where we should ignore the man behind the screen and all the toxic assets that still line the balance sheets of the nation's banks.

from Commentaries:

Citi’s dirty pool of assets

Hard as it may be to believe, shares of beleaguered Citigroup are on fire.

The stock of the de facto U.S. government-owned bank is up some 300 percent after it cratered at around $1 back in early March.

The over-caffeinated stock maven Jim Cramer keeps calling Citi a "buy, buy, buy" on his nightly CNBC television show. Even the more sober-minded writers at Barron's are pounding the table a bit, predicting Citi shares could double in price in three years."

Time out! It's far too soon for anyone but stock flippers and fast money hedge funds to buy Citi right now.

Germany risks zombie banks

Margaret Doyle– Margaret Doyle is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are her own –

Germany’s politicians seem to have rescued their bad bank. Pushing back the valuation date for toxic assets to before the Lehman collapse has made it more likely that banks will consign their dud investments to the voluntary scheme.

It had looked as if the banks might simply boycott it. However, while the government has scored a political goal, it is no closer to its aim of boosting lending to a credit-starved German economy.
The essence of the scheme is that banks will be able to transfer some 250 billion euros of toxic assets into “eine Bad Bank”. In exchange they receive government-backed paper that they can count towards regulatory capital.

A pledge drive for toxic assets

matthew-goldstein– Matthew Goldstein is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own –

Three months after the Obama administration proposed the Public-Private Investment Program, banks remain lukewarm to the notion of selling ailing securities at a deep discount. Potential hedge fund buyers, meanwhile, are wary about government officials looking over their shoulders.

But it’s not too late for team Obama to change course and put in place a program that might actually entice the banks and hedge funds to participate, while also serving a civic good.

from The Great Debate UK:

Germany’s bad bank fudge

REUTERSpaul-taylor-- Margaret Doyle and Paul Taylor are Reuters columnists. The opinions expressed are their own --

LONDON/PARIS, April 23 (Reuters) - Germany is to set up a system of bad banks before the summer recess to hold some 250 billion euros of toxic assets. Finance Minister Peer Steinbruek has assured taxpayers that his solution -- called "eine Bad Bank" (there is no German word for the concept) -- will not weigh on the budget.

He is fooling them, if not himself. If the rescue really were such a free ride for the taxpayer, some savvy commercial investor would have stepped in. Under the proposed scheme, the taxpayer will end up carrying the risk of "Schrottpapiere" (scrap paper).

How G20 can unfreeze credit and cut bailout costs

Lena Komileva– Lena Komileva is Head of G7 Market Economics, Tullett Prebon –

One of the big historical lessons of this crisis for economic policy is that bringing down the risk-free cost of money – central bank rates or government bond yields – and injecting liquidity into the banking system cannot on their own fix broken credit markets.

Quantitative easing by central banks may help to solve short-term liquidity problems for domestic borrowers and lenders, by going around broken markets during times of extreme financial and economic uncertainty. However, this is no substitute for efforts to restore international credit markets back to health.

Effective policy measures would contain the economic fear and channel private sector incentives – the foundation of free markets – in a way that alters the behaviour of lenders, companies and consumers. The end-game policy strategy cannot be to replace free markets.

Geithner’s naked subsidy redefines toxic

jimsaftcolumn31– James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own

Treasury Secretary Geithner is all but admitting that U.S. banks are suffering not from market failure but self-inflicted collateral damage.

The U.S. Treasury on Monday detailed an up to $1 trillion plan to buy up assets from banks in partnership with private investors, using financing bankrolled by the government, financing that is only secured by the value of the doubtful assets the fund buys.

One portion will be dedicated to buying complex securities from banks employing capital contributed by private investors and the government topped up with funds borrowed from the Federal Reserve. A second portion will buy older securities that are, or were, rated AAA, using, you guessed it, more non-recourse funding.

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