Geithner’s faulty apologia

January 28, 2010

Tim Geithner’s appearance in front of Congress today was another embarrassment, perhaps more for the people’s representatives than the Treasury Secretary. Still, Geithner offered a clumsy defense for paying out 100¢ on the dollar to AIG’s counterparties, which included more than Goldman Sachs.

What they lacked in knowledge and nuance, Congress made up for in volume and OUTRAGE. The worst moment I saw was the utterly bogus comparison by Rep. Stephen Lynch between AIG’s payout to Goldman (100¢ on the dollar!) and the bailout offer for Bear Stearns shareholders (only $2 per share). 100 is a bigger number than 2, you see.

Geithner was lucky to be doing battle with such an unprepared, unimpressive group.

His defense, such as it was, amounted to the following:

Had the Fed imposed haircuts on AIG counterparties, it would have led to AIG’s credit rating being downgraded and the company (and consequently the economy) would have collapsed.

But AIG had already been downgraded, that’s why the government stepped in with a bailout. At that point the firm’s liabilities were taxpayer backed, so it strains credulity to say that extinguishing certain CDS it had written would cause systemic fallout in and of itself. Essentially what was happening here was unused insurance contracts were being extinguished. (Imagine a pro-rata refund from your insurer for a homeowner’s policy it wants to cancel…)

And there was precedent for this kind of negotiation. Eric Dinallo, former Commissioner of the NYS Dept. of Insurance and current candidate for Eliot Spitzer’s old job, had previously negotiated haircuts on CDS written by the monoline bond insurers. They were never forced into a taxpayer bailout. Did anyone at the Fed pick up the phone to consult Dinallo? Why not?

At the hearing, Geithner said he took “great pride” in his judgment to pay out 100¢ on the dollar to AIG counterparties because, he claims, it saved us from economic catastrophe.

No doubt the system was on the verge of collapse. But the biggest threat was undercapitalized banks. The payout to AIG counterparties was just a backdoor bailout for them. As Dan Alpert of Westwood Capital points out:

Every dollar of [haircut] would…amount to a dollar less of capital on bank balance sheets today (actually more, because in the interim the affected banks made money with that capital). If the discount was more than a little, some of the institutions would have required “front door” bailouts, or would have failed.

That’s why everyone is still so angry about this, and Goldman’s ridiculous claims that it would have been fine even absent the $12.9 billion it received from taxpayers via AIG. Sure, they’ve paid back TARP. But here’s another $12.9 billion of your money that’s helping to fund their bonus pool.

Jim Rickards offers a good closing thought on the matter:

What was actually done [in the AIG bailout] shows a breathtaking lack of imagination and legal skill on the part of the people involved.  The Fed and Treasury do have an obligation to save the system, but they have no obligation to save each and every member of the system.  That’s a big difference.  You may need to build a firewall but it’s important to build it in the right place.  Makes sense to protect the little guy but where was the national security interest in protecting Goldman? This is why I am just speechless when I hear Geithner testify that though he was utterly surrounded by ex-Goldman people they somehow had NO IMPACT on his judgment to save Goldman.  How blind and unaware can you be?

Not so blind that you can’t be Treasury Secretary…


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[…] Geithner’s faulty apologia Rolfe Winkler […]

Posted by Links 1/28/10 « naked capitalism | Report as abusive

Giethners lack of imagination in a settlement is truly appalling.

In regards to the legislators, I watched the monoline insurers testimony from the front row sitting next to a jaded (correctly) WSJ correspondant. The ineptitude of the legislative class was embarrassing and showed that specialists should have been brought in and a real committee established.

The mismatch of power and skill on display was disturbing. Spitzer testified that morning supporting a scared looking Dinallo. It was later revealed, spitzer was being serviced in a hotel room as client #9 the evening before.

In retrospect the full media/money/political circus was on display in full glory. It appears everyone involved in Washington gets screwed one way or another.

My recommendation. If one is in washington, go attend a senate hearing, any hearing. It is free and highly educational.

Posted by nick gogerty | Report as abusive

does anybody know someone at Government Sachs? are they in denial about their taxpayer-funded welfare status, or is it all just a matter of gettin’ theirs?

Posted by million | Report as abusive

well said. geithner is either incompetent or in cahoots, either is grounds for dismissal. sadly if he goes he will be on the board of one of the banks and can only benefit from firing (think of the fees he will charge)

also dont forget GS held $7bn+ of collateral from AIG due to margin calls on cds’s. as they were complicit in engineering the failure of aig it would have been hard to hold on to that money post bankruptcy. so aig to gs hand out = $20bn.

Posted by bgreen | Report as abusive

If Geithner and the Congressional mainstream had any real muscles, and not merely the white-collar gangster variety, they’d be a gigantic hit on WWE where they could pretend to wrestle over something they’re only ever pretending to take seriously.

As it is, they’d all look much better in lycra behind bars.

Posted by The Bell | Report as abusive

This is just pure politics, I don’t want to read deep into all these.

Posted by Lim Boon Chuan | Report as abusive

Counterparties 100% on CDS’


Interesting Parody and unexpected explanation of CDS’ using recent NBA controversy with Gilbert Arenas.
Credit Default Swaps Gambling and Guns in the NBA: default-swaps-gambling-and-guns.html

Posted by mclift | Report as abusive

It’s one thing to make a boneheaded decision. It’s another to repeatedly lie about it under oath. Time for Beavis to resign.

Posted by Fielding Mellish | Report as abusive