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Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Bad Sign for Geithner's Toxic Asset Plan

The TALF program intended to increase auto loans, student loans, and credit card lending has a lot in common with the Geithner public private investment plan to remove toxic assets from bank balance sheets, including the valuable non-recourse loan feature. The fact that the TALF program is not living up to expectations - not even close - leads to questions about whether the Geithner plan will encounter similar problems:

Federal Program to Boost Private Lending Struggles to Get Money to Consumers, by Neil Irwin, Washington Post: In its first two months, the government's signature initiative to support consumer lending has fallen well short of expectations, deploying only a fraction of the amount officials had hoped to extend to stimulate auto loans, student loans and credit card lending. ...

Under [the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, or] TALF, private investors ... put up a relatively small amount of money to be matched with a larger loan from the Federal Reserve. The combined funds are then used to purchase newly created, highly rated securities, which in turn fund a wide range of consumer and business lending.

If the securities become more valuable, the private investors stand to repay their government loans and make a healthy profit; if the securities plummet in value, the investors can lose only what they put up originally...

Officials envisioned TALF supporting tens of billions of dollars a month in new lending, saying it could eventually total $1 trillion. But in March, when it was launched, it backed only $4.7 billion in auto loans and credit cards. For April, it logged only $1.7 billion.

Sources involved in the program said private investors have been reluctant to work with the government, which they view as an unreliable business partner. ... There are restrictions on the business activities of participants in the program. ... But perhaps more significant ... is a fear that the government could retroactively change the terms, exacting new limits on what investors can pay their executives, for example, or trying to claw back profits that firms make in the program. ...

Federal Reserve officials have privately urged President Obama and congressional leaders to publicly state that the government views investors in voluntary programs such as TALF differently than it does companies that need a federal bailout.

Investors are not the only ones who need comforting, though. The Fed relies on primary dealers, or brokerage houses, to play a key role as intermediaries in TALF...

But the primary dealers have been extremely cautious..., hobbling the program's progress... Lawyers at the New York Fed ... have been working to help the brokers and investors work through the issues, and government officials are hopeful about the program's future. ...

The Public-Private Investment Program, designed to buy loans and securities from banks, is structured similarly to TALF. ...

And the differences between the PPIP and TALF programs that I can think of, e.g. that the PPIP has toxic assets as part of the bargain, and some of the banks will need a bailout so the reassurances about executive pay, etc. can't be made in these cases, are additional factors working against the PPIP's success.

    Posted by on Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 12:47 AM in Economics, Policy | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (16)


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