Is the Obama administration once again going to be party to “underworld” business principles in an attempt to promote the success of a program to clean up the banks? Let’s go down into ‘the street.’
The TALF (Term Asset Based Lending Facility) so far has had middling success. The PPIP (Public-Private Investment Partnership) is yet to be rolled out. Investors have been reluctant to participate in these programs, despite attractive financing terms, because of concerns in partnering with a capricious and at times vindictive Uncle Sam. These programs, as with any transactional program, have one major potential flaw: self-dealing. I highlighted this point on April 7th in my post Games of Chance: TALF, PPIP, TARP, FDIC, FASB. I wrote:
In a slightly different version of the game – and in attempt to attract more players, if not necessarily truly new money – the government is considering allowing the sellers of toxic assets to also be buyers. How does that version of the game work? The sellers (Citi, BofA, JP Morgan, et al):
. . . can put up a few percent of their own money, and swap each other’s toxic assets financed by a bewildered public suddenly bearing more than 90% of the downside risk. The “investors” in this happy “public-private partnership” keep half the upside while ordinary Americans take the downside off of their hands. Some partnership. [From John Hussman at John Mauldin’s Outside the Box]
Fast forward to May 27th and this version of the “game” is being proposed by the dealers. The Wall Street Journal highlights, Banks Aiming to Play Both Sides of Coin:
Some banks are prodding the government to let them use public money to help buy troubled assets from the banks themselves.
Banking trade groups are lobbying the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. for permission to bid on the same assets that the banks would put up for sale as part of the government’s Public Private Investment Program.
PPIP was hatched by the Obama administration as a way for banks to sell hard-to-value loans and securities to private investors, who would get financial aid as an enticement to help them unclog bank balance sheets. The program, expected to start this summer, will get as much as $100 billion in taxpayer-funded capital. That could increase to more than $500 billion in purchasing power with participation from private investors and FDIC financing.
The lobbying push is aimed at the Legacy Loans Program, which will use about half of the government’s overall PPIP infusion to facilitate the sale of whole loans such as residential and commercial mortgages.
I can already hear the pontificating on how rigorous the oversight of this program will be. Geithner and team will produce a set of selling points to “make the case.” All that said, games of chance are actually exceedingly simple. The dealer and another player or two fabricate a reasonable chance for success for new participants (taxpayers) while knowing full well the table is tilted, the “fix” is baked in, and the “dough” is going home with them. The WSJ highlights these concerns:
“To allow the government to finance an off-balance-sheet maneuver that claims to shift risk off the parent firm’s books but really doesn’t offload it is highly problematic,” said Arthur Levitt, a former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman who is an adviser to private-equity firm Carlyle Group LLC.
“The notion of banks doing this is incongruent with the original purpose of the PPIP and wrought with major conflicts,” said Thomas Priore, president of ICP Capital, a New York fixed-income investment firm overseeing about $16 billion in assets.
One risk is that certain hard-to-value assets mightn’t be fairly priced if banks are essentially negotiating with themselves. Inflated prices could result in the government overpaying. Recipients of taxpayer-funded capital infusions under the Troubled Asset Relief Program also could use those funds to buy their own loans.
The fact that banks want to “play the game” again truly indicates the character and integrity of this crowd. Self-dealing is common practice in the underworld. We have witnessed the violation of private contracts in the housing and automotive sectors.
Will Geithner and team allow taxpayers to be run over once again via self-dealing within the PPIP?