Friday, September 26, 2008

The Pearlstein Proposal

(Steven Pearstein in the Washington Post) [Create] a new government-owned corporation that would be capitalized, initially, with $100 billion in taxpayer funds. The company would use auctions or other mechanisms to buy the troubled securities from banks and other regulated institutions, but instead of paying for them in cash, the government would swap them for an equal number of preferred shares in the new company. (Preferred shares are something of a cross between a bond and common stock.) Those preferred shares would pay a government-guaranteed dividend and could be redeemed by the government at any time. But they could also be used by banks to augment the capital they are required to maintain by regulators.

The beauty of this arrangement is that, rather than protecting taxpayers by having the government take an ownership stake in hundreds of privately owned banks, it would be the banks that would own a stake of the government's rescue vehicle. The government would suffer the first $100 billion in losses from buying and selling the asset-backed securities, but any further losses would be borne by the other shareholders. And should the rescue effort actually wind up making a profit, then the banks would share in that as well.

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