Uncle Sam Economy: Not Exactly a Level Playing Field

stimulus hatAs we navigate the landscape of the Uncle Sam Economy, we will soon realize that the “playing field” is anything but level. What does this mean? How can we most appropriately manage? Will there be opportunities? Let’s break out our compass and project what is on the horizon.

As Bloomberg reports, U.S. Said to Plan Approval for 10 Banks to Repay TARP:

The Treasury is preparing to announce today it will let 10 banks buy back government shares, people familiar with the matter said, signaling confidence some of the largest U.S. lenders won’t again need a taxpayer rescue.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. is among those cleared to repay Troubled Asset Relief Program funds, a person said on condition of anonymity. Goldman Sachs Group Inc., American Express Co. and State Street Corp. are also among those that have sold shares and debt unguaranteed by the government, demonstrating they can raise funds without federal aid.

Allow me to provide further color:

1. Why are these institutions keen to repay TARP funds, which are widely held to be a cheap source of funding?

As none other than Pimco’s Bill Gross said of Uncle Sam, “don’t turn your back on him.” I would agree. Uncle Sam is not a good business partner. His agenda runs much farther afield than the bottom line focus of these institutions.

Make no mistake, the greatest motivation for these institutions to repay TARP funds is to be freed from the shackles of compensation controls. The major assets of financial institutions ride down the escalator and go out the door every evening. Operating under compensation caps is a surefire way for an institution to achieve “extreme mediocrity” over the long haul. Why?

The strongest employees will gravitate toward more attractive and financially rewarding opportunities.

2. From an investment perspective, how should we think of TARP recipients versus prospective non-TARP recipients?

In my opinion, the non-TARP institutions will be viewed much more as “growth” opportunities. Why? They will be able to more aggressively allocate capital and take risk unencumbered by Uncle Sam and his minions.

The TARP recipients may very well gravitate more toward a utility-type of business in which they provide basic services while simultaneously fulfilling elements of Uncle Sam’s social agenda.

Geithner, Bernanke, Obama and team will discount this reality but I believe it is a strong likelihood within the financial industry, much as it will be within the automotive industry.

3. From a borrower’s perspective, how should we think of TARP recipients versus non-TARP recipients?

Perhaps initially there will not be much disparity in the relative pricing of different products, but I do believe the disparity will grow over time. All we need to do is review the undercutting of prices within the insurance industry by AIG to see the potential for the same within the financial industry. As borrowers, we will likely have more opportunities to comparison shop going forward. It is not inconceivable that certain non-TARP institutions decide to exit select businesses as pricing becomes non-economical.

4. The greatest question remains, will any of these institutions, both TARP and non-TARP alike, ever be allowed to fail?

The fear of failure at one point was the greatest motivator for innovation and real long term success. Having violated this moral hazard by unprecedented margins, the cost to capitalism will only be known far down the road.

As such, the need to prudently and proactively navigate the economic landscape will remain of paramount importance. The need for Sense on Cents will grow ever stronger.

That’s a good thing!!

About Larry Doyle 522 Articles

Larry Doyle embarked on his Wall Street career in 1983 as a mortgage-backed securities trader for The First Boston Corporation. He was involved in the growth and development of the secondary mortgage market from its near infancy.

After close to 7 years at First Boston, Larry joined Bear Stearns in early 1990 as a mortgage trader. In 1993, Larry was named a Senior Managing Director at the firm. He left Bear to join Union Bank of Switzerland in late 1996 as Head of Mortgage Trading.

In 1998, after 15 years of trading and precipitated by Swiss Bank’s takeover of UBS, Larry moved from trading to sales as a senior salesperson at Bank of America. His move into sales led him to the role as National Sales Manager for Securitized Products at JP Morgan Chase in 2000. He was integrally involved in developing the department, hiring 40 salespeople, and generating $300 million in sales revenue. He left JP Morgan in 2006.

Throughout his career, Larry eagerly engaged clients and colleagues. He has mentored dozens of junior colleagues, recruited at a number of colleges and universities, and interviewed hundreds. He has also had extensive public speaking experience. Additionally, Larry served as Chair of the Mortgage Trading Committee for the Public Securities Association (PSA) in the mid-90s.

Larry graduated Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa in 1983 from the College of the Holy Cross.

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