A number of economists, including Paul Krugman, have panned Timothy Geithner’s plan to recapitalize banks by buying toxic assets in a complex and highly leveraged way that puts the taxpayer’s dollars at risk.
Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel economist, has piled on. In fact, his is probably the most damning opinion I’ve seen. Stiglitz says that first of all, Geithner has analyzed the problem incorrectly. Geithner keeps telling us it is a “liquidity” problem. Stiglitz says “poppycock”:
The main problem is not a lack of liquidity. If it were, then a far simpler program would work: just provide the funds without loan guarantees. The real issue is that the banks made bad loans in a bubble and were highly leveraged. They have lost their capital, and this capital has to be replaced.
What he means is their “capital”, or assets are in worthless loans. Yes that’s right – worthless. So, as he points out, paying “fair market value” for these assets won’t work, will it? They’re worthless.
So what does Geithner propose?
Only by overpaying for the assets will the banks be adequately recapitalized. But overpaying for the assets simply shifts the losses to the government. In other words, the Geithner plan works only if and when the taxpayer loses big time.
Stiglitz explains the proposed process very well, demonstrating it fairly simple and straightforward examples how the taxpayer takes the majority of the risk, and, given the nature off the “assets”, will absorb the majority of the losses.
But Americans are likely to lose even more than these calculations suggest, because of an effect called adverse selection. The banks get to choose the loans and securities that they want to sell. They will want to sell the worst assets, and especially the assets that they think the market overestimates (and thus is willing to pay too much for).
But the market is likely to recognize this, which will drive down the price that it is willing to pay. Only the government’s picking up enough of the losses overcomes this “adverse selection” effect. With the government absorbing the losses, the market doesn’t care if the banks are “cheating” them by selling their lousiest assets, because the government bears the cost.
That is a process driven problem. The Geithner process guarantees the outcome because that is the most likely outcome, banks not being stupid and with the government bearing the cost.
Bottom line – taxpayers are going to get hosed and hosed good.
Stiglitz provides an interesting alternative which gives you an idea of how poorly he regards Geithner’s plan:
Some Americans are afraid that the government might temporarily “nationalize” the banks, but that option would be preferable to the Geithner plan. After all, the F.D.I.C. has taken control of failing banks before, and done it well.
Given only those two option, I’d say Stiglitz has a point.
Of course, the argument we’ve made since day one is we ought to let them go bust, get it over with and begin the recovery. That’s the same argument we made concerning GM and Chrysler.
Instead we’ve gotten these insane plans driven by the administration which has thrown literally trillions of good dollars after bad – and to no apparent avail.
This madness has got to stop.
It gives you great confidence in someone when they can’t even tell you how much is left in a fund which they control. Apparently Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner thinks he has about $132 billion left in TARP funds.
But the Government Accountability Office, a non-partisan federal agency, reports that figure is closer to $32 billion, which is what ABC News and other independent analysts thought.
The Treasury Department continues to insist GAO and others are double-counting commitments and underestimating potential paybacks.
So everyone but Treasury is wrong. I’m willing, at this point, to wait until a final determination is forthcoming, but I have to tell you, if I were a betting person, I wouldn’t be backing Geithner’s position. And don’t forget how cooperative his department has been with the oversight folks.
Senator Tom Coburn’s office provides a few facts about the budget the Obama administration has submitted to Congress. Budget buster would most likely be a better description:
Total spending under this budget is $3.9 trillion in 2009, or 28% of GDP, the highest level as a share of GDP since World War II.
This budget provides $1.2 trillion in discretionary budget authority for FY 2010 and increases discretionary spending by $490 billion over 5 years. Total spending in 2009 is 28 percent of GDP.
The Democrat budget includes $2.2 trillion in mandatory spending for FY 2010, which includes Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid spending.
So there are the basics. And remember the pledge that by 2012 the deficit will be cut in half. Well, with this budget, that doesn’t mean a whole bunch in terms of what’s left in the deficit. It will still most certainly be higher than any deficit prior to this one.
Deficit is one thing, debt is another. Politicians like to use smoke and mirrors with deficit and debt, preferring to ignore debt and talk about how they’re dealing with debt. Well let’s get serious about this – the debt is what we owe, the deficit is just how much more we’re piling up.
Total National Debt Today:
Under the Democrat Budget:
FY 2010: $12.2 trillion
FY 2011: $14.3 trillion
FY 2012: $15.3 trillion
FY 2013: $16.1 trillion
FY 2014: $17.0 trillion
So now we see the bottom line. In FY 2011, we will have more debt than GDP (the US GDP is 13.84 Trillion). And, in all honesty, we don’t have to be – unless we pass this budget. You cannot spend yourself out of debt. And you cannot cure a credit problem by extending more credit.
This budget adds $4.96 trillion to the public debt by 2014. Debt will be about two-thirds of GDP for the entire budget window, and deficits will be at least $500 billion in each year of the budget window.
The Democrat Budget sets total outlays in FY 2010 at $3.53 trillion and total revenues at $2.29 trillion, for a deficit of $1.24 trillion.
This is truly the beginning of the end. And without cap and trade involved, without universal health care is factored in, just to pay for this mess, taxes are going to go up. The question is how high. And as you’ll see, it’ll be higher than the spin is spinning:
Against a baseline that assumes current law tax policy is extended, S. Con. Res. 13 raises taxes by $361 billion and allows for $1.3 trillion in additional tax increases. In addition their budget paves the way for additional tax increases from a proposed cap-and-trade tax in reconciliation.
If you’re wondering where the additional $1.3 trillion in taxation might (will?) come from, Coburn provides a little behind the scenes look at how the Democrats procedurally set up phantom funds that they can initiate through a majority vote anytime they wish to fund favored initiatives:
Deficit Neutral Reserve Funds:
The Democrat budget includes 15 “reserve funds,” which essentially “phantom spending” policy statements that allow the majority to say that they would like to fund a certain initiative. The deficit neutral requirement associated with the reserve funds typically require that taxes be raised in order to pay for the new policy initiative. If all reserve funds were to be fully enacted, total spending would increase by $1.3 trillion, financed by tax increases or spending decreases.
Welcome to “hope and change”. More debt, more spending, bigger deficit, and no end in sight.
Someone will end up paying for all of this mess, and my guess is it will be all of us – for generations.
I can’t say with any certainty what this forebodes, but this is a staggering amount of debt to pile onto any country, especially within just a few months (my emphasis):
The U.S. government and the Federal Reserve have spent, lent or guaranteed $12.8 trillion, an amount that approaches the value of everything produced in the country last year, to stem the longest recession since the 1930s.
New pledges from the Fed, the Treasury Department and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. include $1 trillion for the Public-Private Investment Program, designed to help investors buy distressed loans and other assets from U.S. banks. The money works out to $42,105 for every man, woman and child in the U.S. and 14 times the $899.8 billion of currency in circulation. The nation’s gross domestic product was $14.2 trillion in 2008.
The really scary thing is, the government is not even close to being done spending money. Yet we’ve already committed about 90% of GDP. Where is all that money going to come from?
As we’ve said before, there’s only a few options: (1) taxes; (2) borrowing; and (3) printing press.
Taxes will only raise so much, even when the government starts raising rates on lower income quintiles, and certainly not enough to keep up with the ballooning debt-service payments.
Borrowing just isn’t going to happen because there isn’t anybody else who either wants to or is capable of lending us more money. To wit, here’s some of Peter Murphy’s analysis on our borrowing problems:
The biggest buyers of US Government (and Agency) debt, for the past several years, have been China, Japan, and the Oil States.
However, the supply of loanable funds among these entities from which the US can borrow is drying up.
China’s current-account surplus, the source of the funds for its Treasury purchases, has dropped precipitously as the global economy has contracted over the past several months.
Japan, another major buyer of Treasuries over recent years, is now posting trade deficits for the first time since the early 1970′s. This current account deficit, combined with a significant fiscal shortfall and planned issuance of $33 Trillion Yen ($340 Billion USD) in government debt this year, means that Japan will be, in effect, competing with the US for funds, rather than lending to us.
And, the oil-exporters are in no shape to be buying anything right now, as oil prices have collapsed since last summers $147/barrel peak. Russia is busy selling foreign exchange to prop up its currency.
Brad Sester of the Council of Foreign Relations reports that foreign demand for long-term treasuries has faded, and notes, ominously, that “global reserves aren’t growing”.
Accordingly, borrowing does not look like an option. Which leaves really just one choice.
Printing money in a down economy, which will have to be done, increases inflation and saps purchasing power (potentially leading to hyper-inflation). We may be able to pay off our debts this way, but we’ll wipe out the wealth of the nation doing so. Think post-Franco-Prussian War where France drove its economy into the ground in order to pay off about 22% of its yearly GDP in war reparations to Germany … over three years. That strife led to the Paris Commune uprisings among other things. Or worse, consider post-WWI Germany, with inflation rising so fast that workers had to be paid twice a day and cart around wheelbarrows full of money just to buy a loaf of bread.
Is that what we’re headed for? I sure hope not, but the signs aren’t very encouraging if history is any guide. It is true that a much more dynamic and nimble economy exists today as compared to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But the world tendency right now seems to be to shackle that economy, making it much less dynamic and nimble. The end result must be less wealth produced, and less money to pay these debts. In short, our government is currently cashing checks that our economy can’t pay.
If you’ve not kept up or been unable to keep up (that’s why we’re here), you’ve probably wondered about the references to the “underpants gnomes” when discussing the banking and auto industry situations.
Naturally we have precisely the information you need to be in the know. Just remember, as our own underpants gnomes are discovering, the tricky part is “Phase II”.
You remember TARP. The “Troubled Asset Rescue Plan”? The plan which the Obama administration and the Treasury Department said they were monitoring closely? In fact, they even put a “watchdog” in charge of its oversight.
Transparency. Oversight. Hope and Change.
And any other buzzword promise that was thrown out there to describe how this administration would be so different from the last.
But apparently all the oversight promised depends heavily on cooperation, not stonewalling, by the Department administering TARP. That would be Treasury:
“We do not seem to be a priority for the Treasury Department,” the Congressional Oversight Panel’s Elizabeth Warren told a Senate Finance Committee hearing today.
“We have sent letters. We have requested that there be someone named so that we can get technical information. And so far, we have not been a first priority,” Warren said. “We use what you give us, and we will exercise the leverage given to us by Congress. In part, that’s why I’m here today. I’m here to talk to you about what’s happened so far, what we have discovered so far, the inquiries that we have in mid-stream and for which we continue to await responses.”
Warren, visibly frustrated with a lack of cooperation from the administration, emphasized, “This problem starts with Treasury.”
Now part of the problem, obviously, is that several key positions in Treasury have yet to be filled, over 60 days into the new administration and in the midst of a financial crisis. Apparently that’s not a priority either.
Oh, and you’ll love this:
Neil Barofsky, Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, voiced similar concerns.
He noted that his office just conducted a survey of all 364 TARP recipients on their use of government funds, something they had requested Treasury do, only for the Department to decline to do so except in the cases of Citigroup and Bank of America.
“One thing is clear: complaints that it was impractical, impossible, or a waste of time to require banks to detail how they used TARP funds were unfounded,” Barofsky said.
I continue to be unimpressed with Tim Geithner and his management and leadership style. What you’re reading here is totally unacceptable. For once, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said the right thing:
“Unfortunately, despite saying all the right things about open government, the new administration has not made any major changes aimed at making TARP more transparent,” he said. “Moreover, I have heard about potential problems with access to information from all three of the oversight bodies testifying.”
Hope and Change.
A study just completed in Spain finds that the creation of so-called “green jobs” doesn’t at all seem to be the employment panacea promised by their advocates. As you recall, President Obama pointed to Spain as the reference point for the establishment of government aid to renewable energy. As the study points out, “No other country has given such broad support to the construction and production of electricity through renewable sources.” But the results are not at all what you might expect given the hype. In fact, they’ve been quite the opposite:
Optimistically treating European Commission partially funded data, we find that for every renewable energy job that the State manages to finance, Spain’s experience cited by President Obama as a model reveals with high confidence, by two different methods, that the U.S. should expect a loss of at least 2.2 jobs on average, or about 9 jobs lost for every 4 created, to which we have to add those jobs that non-subsidized investments with the same resources would have created.
Be sure you read that last part of the sentence carefully as well – those jobs would have been created by “non-subsidizsed investments” with the “same resources” – or said another way, they’d have been created in the private sector without government picking winners and losers and spending billions in taxpayer money.
Between 2000 and 2008, Spain was very aggressive in pursuing alternative energy and green jobs. But its results were less than stellar:
Despite its hyper-aggressive (expensive and extensive) “green jobs” policies it appears that Spain likely has created a surprisingly low number of jobs, two-thirds of which came in construction, fabrication and installation, one quarter in administrative positions, marketing and projects engineering, and just one out of ten jobs has been created at the more permanent level of actual operation and maintenance of the renewable sources of electricity.
So 9 out of 10 were temporary jobs, while only 1 in 10 became permanent. And the cost?
The cost to create a “green job”:
The study calculates that since 2000 Spain spent €571,138 to create each “green job”, including subsidies of more than €1 million per wind industry job.
The cost in jobs lost:
Each “green” megawatt installed destroys 5.28 jobs on average elsewhere in the economy: 8.99 by photovoltaics, 4.27 by wind energy, 5.05 by mini-hydro.
And the eventual cost to consumers:
The price of a comprehensive energy rate (paid by the end consumer) in Spain would have to be increased 31% to being to repay the historic debt generated by this rate deficit mainly produced by the subsidies to renewables, according to Spain’s energy regulator.
Spanish citizens must therefore cope with either an increase of electricity rates or increased taxes (and public deficit), as will the U.S. if it follows Spain’s model
Previous studies have concluded that such increases would impact the poorest quintile the most:
• Reducing emissions, a major rationale for “green jobs” or renewables regimes, hits the poorest hardest. According to the recent report by the Congressional Budget Office, a cap-and-trade system aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by just 15% will cost the poorest quintile 3% of their annual household income, while benefiting the richest quintile (“Trade-Offs in Allocating Allowances for CO2 Emissions”, U.S. Congressional Budget Office, Economic and Budget Issue Brief, April 25, 2007).
• Raising energy costs loses jobs. According to a Penn State University study, replacing two-thirds of U.S. coal-based energy with higher-priced energy such as renewables, if possible, would cost almost 3 million jobs, and perhaps more than 4 million (Rose, A.Z., and Wei, D., “The Economic Impact of Coal Utilization and Displacement in the Continental United States, 2015,” Pennsylvania State University, July 2006)
So to recap, we have a scheme which would see a net reduction in jobs by its implementation, create jobs of which only 10% were permanent, Cost anywhere from a half a million to a million dollars per job, increase energy costs tremendously and hit the poor the hardest.
Sounds like a winner, doesn’t it?
Will anyone pay attention to the actual experiment conducted by Spain and its results? Or are the blinders firmly in place?
While this scheme would be important to contest at any time, it is critically important to do so now, given the economic situation. One thing that must be avoided is government killing jobs as fast as the private sector creates them. This is truly a time when government should do all it can to enable the private sector to create jobs (tax cuts, etc.) and step back and allow that process to work. What it shouldn’t be doing is picking winners and losers and enacting a scheme which, in Spain at least, has proven to do all the things necessary to kill or at least cripple any economic recovery.
I‘m still in rather stunned disbelief about the White House ousting GM’s CEO.
It’s not about how good a CEO he was or whether I agreed with his plan, his leadership style or his results. It’s about the White House going so far as to ask him to step aside. And, according to Obama’s own statement today, his “team” will “working closely with GM to produce a better business plan”.
Why, that sounds like something we’ve seen pass this way before and firmly rejected:
Italian Fascism often involved corporatism, a political system in which economy is collectively managed by employers, workers and state officials by formal mechanisms at national level.
Now I’m sure there are those out there who will argue that this is hardly a “formal mechanism”. But of course that’s simply not true. It is formal enough that a CEO is gone. Someone believes it is a mechanism of some formality for that to happen. And, if you think about it, it is just one more mechanism among many that have been put forward lately. Timothy Geithner’s plan to have the government take over financial institutions and hedge funds if the government deems them a threat to the economy’s well-being, for instance.
After all the caterwauling by the left about “unprecedented executive branch power expansion” during the Bush years, they’re rather quiet about these. The market, however, has cast it’s vote. Down about 300 at 4pm.
And this is all based in a false premise – something I’ve noticed that Obama uses quite effectively:
“We cannot, we must not, and we will not let our auto industry simply vanish,” President Obama said at the White House.
Anyone – who would expect the domestic auto industry to ‘simply vanish’ if the companies were left to go the traditional route of bankruptcy?
Since when does bankruptcy equal “vanish”? Delta airlines seems to have survived it quite well, thank you very much. Their bankruptcy or the bankruptcy of other domestic airlines hasn’t seen the domestic airline industry “vanish”. Why would anyone believe it would happen if GM or Chrysler went bankrupt?
And that said, what did he suggest in his speech today?
The administration says a “surgical” structured bankruptcy may be the only way forward for GM and Chrysler, and President Obama held out that prospect Monday.
“I know that when people even hear the word ‘bankruptcy,’ it can be a bit unsettling, so let me explain what I mean,” he said. “What I am talking about is using our existing legal structure as a tool that, with the backing of the U.S. government, can make it easier for General Motors and Chrysler to quickly clear away old debts that are weighing them down so they can get back on their feet and onto a path to success; a tool that we can use, even as workers are staying on the job building cars that are being sold.”
Seems like that is precisely what all of us were telling them to do before they started throwing bucketfuls of imaginary dollars at the two companies, wasn’t it? And you can call it “surgical”, “structured” or whatever you want in an attempt to spin this as something other than fairly ordinary bankruptcy procedures, but that’s what they’re talking about.
One of the primary reasons they’ve attempted to keep these companies out of bankruptcy court can be described in three letters: UAW.
Their problem isn’t just “old debts” which need to be cleared away. Instead it is what is euphemistically called “legacy costs” which would go as well. And those “legacy costs” include the gold plated benefits the UAW now enjoys and doesn’t want to give up.
Administration officials on Sunday made it clear that an expedited and heavily supervised bankruptcy reorganization was still very much a possibility for both companies. One official, speaking of GM, compared such a proceeding with a “quick rinse” that could rid the company of much of its debt and contractual obligations.
The thing to watch out for is whether or not this “quick rinse” in a “heavily supervised bankruptcy reorganization” included “contractual obligations” to unions. If not, it will be a “quick rinse” of taxpayer’s wallets.
Among challenges the administration faced leading up to this weekend’s decision, foremost were the efforts to draw steep concessions from the United Auto Workers union and from the bondholders.
Attempts to solidify deals with the UAW and bondholders were slowed by disagreements by both parties over how exactly the other party needed to budge. The UAW, for instance, insists it already made health-care concessions in 2005 and 2007, and argues that the bondholders have never been asked to concede anything.
“I don’t see how the UAW will do anything until they see what the bondholders will give up,” one person involved in the negotiations on behalf of the UAW said Sunday.
Progress? Apparently both GM and Chrysler have been negotiating with both the bondholders and the UAW. But there’s not much to report there:
Both GM and Chrysler are negotiating with the UAW to accept a range of cost-cutting measures, including greatly reduced work forces, lower wages and a revamped health-care fund for retirees.
GM and representatives for its bondholders remained in talks over the weekend about a deal that would force these investors to turn in at least two-thirds of the value of the debt they hold in exchange for equity and new debt.
This arrangement would force GM to issue significantly more stock than what is currently being traded in the market. In addition, the government is being asked to guarantee the new debt with federal default insurance in order to entice bondholders who otherwise wouldn’t be interested in participating in the swap.
If GM can’t eventually forge a deal with the ad hoc committee representing the bondholders, the company may be forced to issue a debt-for-equity swap without the blessing of some of its biggest and most influential unsecured investors. This would heighten the possibility of the company eventually needing to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Or said another way, they’ll end up doing what we said they should have done in December, less umpteen billions of taxpayer money poured down a rathole. Of course, had they reorganized under Chapter 11 as we all said they should, the Obama administration wouldn’t have been able to make this unprecedented power grab, would it?
Desmond Lachman, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, was previously chief emerging market strategist at Salomon Smith Barney and deputy director of the International Monetary Fund’s Policy and Review Department. So, he’s spent a lot of time watching emerging markets from the IMF’s point of view, and pointing out where the leaders of developing countries ran the economy off the rails.
Just like he’s watching our political leaders doing the same thing to us. In essence, he writes that the US is repeating the same mistakes that led to Japan’s “Lost Decade”, and Russia’s default on it’s debt.
A singular characteristic of an emerging market heading for deep trouble is a seemingly suicidal tendency to become overly indebted to foreign creditors. That tendency underlay the spectacular collapse of the Thai, Indonesian and Korean currencies in 1997. It also led Russia to default on its debt in 1998 and plunged Argentina into its economic depression in 2001. Yet we too seem to have little difficulty becoming increasingly indebted to the tune of a few hundred billion dollars a year. To make matters worse, we do so to countries like China, Russia and an assortment of Middle Eastern oil producers — none of which is particularly well disposed to us.
Like Argentina in its worst moments, we never seem to question whether it is reasonable to expect foreigners to keep financing our extravagance, and we forget the bad things that happen to the Argentinas or Hungarys of the world when foreigners stop financing their excesses. So instead of laying out a realistic plan for increasing our national savings, we choose not to face up to the Social Security and Medicare crises that lie ahead, embarking instead on massive spending programs that — whatever their long-run merits might be — we simply cannot afford.
After experiencing a few emerging-market crises, I get the sense of watching the same movie over and over. All too often, a tragic part of that movie is the failure of the countries’ policymakers to hear the loud cries of canaries in the coal mine. Before running up further outsized budget deficits, should we not heed the markets that now see a 10 percent probability that the U.S. government will default on its sovereign debt in the next five years? And should we not be paying close attention to the Chinese central bank governor’s musings that he does not feel comfortable with the $1 trillion of U.S. government debt that the Chinese central bank already owns, let alone adding to those holdings?
Speaking of canaries in the coal mines, I note with interest that there have been two failed bond auctions in Germany this year, followed by a failed bond auction of 5-year gilts this week in London.
I just keep watching the kangaroo.
That is, why it isn’t the solution it is touted to be. Jeffrey Sachs of the Financial Times:
The Geithner-Summers plan, officially called the public/private investment programme, is a thinly veiled attempt to transfer up to hundreds of billions of dollars of US taxpayer funds to the commercial banks, by buying toxic assets from the banks at far above their market value. It is dressed up as a market transaction but that is a fig-leaf, since the government will put in 90 per cent or more of the funds and the “price discovery” process is not genuine. It is no surprise that stock market capitalisation of the banks has risen about 50 per cent from the lows of two weeks ago. Taxpayers are the losers, even as they stand on the sidelines cheering the rise of the stock market. It is their money fuelling the rally, yet the banks are the beneficiaries.
If you’ve been wondering why the stock market had a short rally upon its announcement, there’s your explanation. You need to read the whole thing as Sachs uses a simple example to explain his point. He concludes with:
Tim Geithner, Treasury secretary, and Lawrence Summers, director of the White House national economic council, suspect that they cannot go back to Congress to fund their plan and so are raiding the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the remaining Tarp funds, hoping that there will be little public understanding and little or no congressional scrutiny. This is an inappropriate institutional use of the Fed, the FDIC and the Tarp. Mr Geithner and Mr Summers should at the very least explain the true risks of large losses by the government under their plan. Then, a properly informed Congress and public could decide whether to adopt this plan or some better alternative.
But, of course, we’re just in too big of a hurry and the situation is too dire to actually discuss and debate the situation or do it properly through Congressional action. Instead we’ve been sold a bill of goods which, disguised as a way out, is simply a rip off of the taxpayer – again. As Jennifer Rubin notes:
So to avoid the overwhelming popular objection to perpetual bailouts and expenditures, the Obama administration will do this all “off budget” and with no hearings, Congressional debates, or votes. Not very transparent and quite imperious, when you get right down to it.
Yeah, not very “hopey changey” is it?
I’m warming more and more to my suggestion that government officials be compensated the same way they think CEOs should be compensated. If this ends up being a big loss to the taxpayer, Geithner and Summers should receive zero compensation for the outcome. And that would also go for anyone else in the administration or Congress who had a hand in implementing this plan.