Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bailout, Fall Out, Strike Out

For an interesting look at the bank bailout, check out this post by Robert X. Cringley.

This bailout is broken, it is unfair, and it is incredibly inefficient as a result. The bank bailout is based entirely on providing INCENTIVES to the banks – bribing them to THINK ABOUT doing the right thing. The government won’t MAKE the banks do anything. They just ENCOURAGE the banks by giving money.

Where are the incentives in the much smaller housing bailout? There are incentives. THEY ARE ALL BEING GIVEN TO THE BANKS. It is very difficult to find in the new Federal mortgage modification rules much of anything that truly helps homeowners. Banks aren’t REQUIRED to do anything; they can reject any mortgage holder for any financial reason. The banks are PAID to restructure the mortgages and the way those mortgages are being restructured (primarily through increasing term and adding balloon payments) not only costs the banks nothing, it tends to make them MORE money over the life of the loan.

And for a another point of view, check out the comments on the bailout on page three of this article about the International Monetary Fund by Professor Simon Johnson, a professor at MIT Sloan School of Management and formerly the Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund.

Instead, the money was used to recapitalize banks, buying shares in them on terms that were grossly favorable to the banks themselves. As the crisis has deepened and financial institutions have needed more help, the government has gotten more and more creative in figuring out ways to provide banks with subsidies that are too complex for the general public to understand. The first AIG bailout, which was on relatively good terms for the taxpayer, was supplemented by three further bailouts whose terms were more AIG-friendly. The second Citigroup bailout and the Bank of America bailout included complex asset guarantees that provided the banks with insurance at below-market rates. The third Citigroup bailout, in late February, converted government-owned preferred stock to common stock at a price significantly higher than the market price—a subsidy that probably even most Wall Street Journal readers would miss on first reading. And the convertible preferred shares that the Treasury will buy under the new Financial Stability Plan give the conversion option (and thus the upside) to the banks, not the government.

I'm not smart enough to know.

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