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Geithner's Financial System Plan, a Gigantic Confidence Game

Politics / Credit Crisis Bailouts Mar 23, 2009 - 02:14 AM GMT

By: Mike_Shedlock

Politics Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleIn case you missed this weekend's top story about Geithner's much anticipated plan to save the financial world via smoke and mirrors, please consider Toxic Asset Plan Foresees Big Subsidies for Investors


The Treasury Department is expected to unveil early next week its long-delayed plan to buy as much as $1 trillion in troubled mortgages and related assets from financial institutions, according to people close to the talks.

Although the details of the F.D.I.C. part were still being completed on Friday, it is expected that the government will provide the overwhelming bulk of the money — possibly more than 95 percent — through loans or direct investments of taxpayer money.

The hope is that such a generous taxpayer subsidy will attract private investors into the market and accelerate the recovery of the country's banks.

The key protection for taxpayers, according to people briefed on the plan, is that the private investors will bid in auctions against each other for the assets. As a result, administration officials contend, the government will be buying the troubled loans of the banks at a deep discount to their original face value.

Because the government can hold those mortgages as long as it wants, officials are betting the government will be repaid and that taxpayers may even earn a profit if the market value of the loans climbs in the years to come.

To entice private investors like hedge funds and private equity firms to take part, the F.D.I.C. will provide nonrecourse loans — that is, loans that are secured only by the value of the mortgage assets being bought — worth up to 85 percent of the value of a portfolio of troubled assets.

The remaining 15 percent will come from the government and the private investors. The Treasury would put up as much as 80 percent of that, while private investors would put up as little as 20 percent of the money, according to industry officials. Private investors, then, would be contributing as little as 3 percent of the equity, and the government as much as 97 percent.

Private Public Partnership Details Emerging

Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism is sounding concerns about Geithner's Private Public Partnership Details .

If this isn't Newspeak, I don't know what is. Since when is someone who puts 3% of total funds and gets 20% of the equity a "partner"?

And notice the utter dishonesty: a competitive bidding process will protect taxpayers. Huh? A competitive bidding process will elicit a higher price which is BAD for taxpayers!

Dear God, the Administration really thinks the public is full of idiots. But there are so many components to the program, and a lot of moving parts in each, they no doubt expect everyone's eyes to glaze over.

Zombies Win

I seldom agree with Paul Krugman. Yet I am essentially in agreement with Krugman on Geithner's bailout plan.

Krugman is in Despair over financial policy .

The Geithner plan has now been leaked in detail. It's exactly the plan that was widely analyzed — and found wanting — a couple of weeks ago. The zombie ideas have won.

The Obama administration is now completely wedded to the idea that there's nothing fundamentally wrong with the financial system — that what we're facing is the equivalent of a run on an essentially sound bank. As Tim Duy put it, there are no bad assets, only misunderstood assets. And if we get investors to understand that toxic waste is really, truly worth much more than anyone is willing to pay for it, all our problems will be solved.

Krugman Followup

More on the Geithners' bank plan .

Why was I so quick to condemn the Geithner plan? Because it's not new; it's just another version of an idea that keeps coming up and keeps being refuted. It's basically a thinly disguised version of the same plan Henry Paulson announced way back in September.

Why am I so vehement about this? Because I'm afraid that this will be the administration's only shot — that if the first bank plan is an abject failure, it won't have the political capital for a second. So it's just horrifying that Obama — and yes, the buck stops there — has decided to base his financial plan on the fantasy that a bit of financial hocus-pocus will turn the clock back to 2006.

Bear in mind I am not exactly a proponent of the "Swedish Solution", rather I am favor of letting failed banks fail. Nonetheless, Krugman is absolutely correct when it comes to the heart of this story: Geithner's plan is sheer hocus-pocus idiocy.

Brad DeLong's defense of Geithner

Amazingly, I find myself in agreement with a third Krugman article in rapid succession. I promise this will not be habit forming but for now please consider Brad DeLong's defense of Geithner .

Brad gives it the old college try . But he shies away, I think, from the central issue: the non-recourse loans financing 85 percent of the purchases.

Brad treats the prospect that assets purchased by public-private partnership will fall enough in value to wipe out the equity as unlikely. But it isn't: the whole point about toxic waste is that nobody knows what it's worth, so it's highly likely that it will turn out to be worth 15 percent less than the purchase price.

You might say that we know that the stuff is undervalued; actually, I don't think we know that. And anyway, the whole point of the program is to push prices up to the point where we don't know that it's undervalued.

Confidence Game

There have been a lot of intelligent comments by Yves Smith, CalculatedRisk, and Krugman. So far no one has said what I think the plan is: a gigantic confidence game.

This is similar in nature to fraudulent schemes that promise "what's inside the bag is worth $1 million, unless you open the bag".

In this case there may be a few "good bags" similar in nature to salting the mine schemes, but for the most part everyone knows what's in the bag is toxic garbage. What really makes no sense whatsoever is why the government would risk 97% with shared "upside" instead of just buying it all.

Somehow, Geithner (and Obama by implication) believes that igniting a bidding war between hedge funds and private equity over a bag of cow manure will inspire confidence that there's gold in the bag. Such insanity cannot possibly work, which means it won't.

By Mike "Mish" Shedlock
http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com

Click Here To Scroll Thru My Recent Post List

Mike Shedlock / Mish is a registered investment advisor representative for SitkaPacific Capital Management . Sitka Pacific is an asset management firm whose goal is strong performance and low volatility, regardless of market direction.

Visit Sitka Pacific's Account Management Page to learn more about wealth management and capital preservation strategies of Sitka Pacific.

I do weekly podcasts every Thursday on HoweStreet and a brief 7 minute segment on Saturday on CKNW AM 980 in Vancouver.

When not writing about stocks or the economy I spends a great deal of time on photography and in the garden. I have over 80 magazine and book cover credits. Some of my Wisconsin and gardening images can be seen at MichaelShedlock.com .

© 2009 Mike Shedlock, All Rights Reserved

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