Friday, September 26, 2008

Roubini on the TARP

The Treasury plan (even in its current version agreed with Congress) is very poorly conceived and does not contain many of the key elements of a sound and efficient and fair rescue plan. Like in my 10 step HOME plan many other economists and commentators (Charles Calomiris, Raghu Rajan, Kotlikoff and Mehrling, Luigi Zingales, Martin Wolf, Barry Ritholtz, Chris Whalen and twenty others whose views have been featured this week in the RGE Monitor group blogs) have presented ideas that would have minimized the cost to the US taxpayer of a resolution of this financial crisis. It is a disgrace that no professional economist was consulted by Congress or invited to present his/her views at the Congressional hearings on the Treasury rescue plan.

Specifically, the Treasury plan does not formally provide senior preferred shares for the government in exchange for the government purchase of the toxic/illiquid assets of the financial institutions; so this rescue plan is a huge and massive bailout of the shareholders and the unsecured creditors of the firms; with $700 billion of taxpayer money the pockets of reckless bankers and investors have been made fatter under the fake argument that bailing out Wall Street was necessary to rescue Main Street from a severe recession. Instead, the restoration of the financial health of distressed financial firms could have been achieved with a cheaper and better use of public money.

Moreover, the plan does not address the need to recapitalize badly undercapitalized financial institutions: this could have been achieved via public injections of preferred shares into these firms; needed matching injections of Tier 1 capital by current shareholders to make sure that such shareholders take first tier loss in the presence of public recapitalization; suspension of dividends payments; conversion of some of the unsecured debt into equity (a debt for equity swap).

The plan also does not explicitly include an HOLC-style program to reduce across the board the debt burden of the distressed household sector; without such a component the debt overhang of the household sector will continue to depress consumption spending and will exacerbate the current economic recession.

Thus, the Treasury plan is a disgrace: a bailout of reckless bankers, lenders and investors that provides little direct debt relief to borrowers and financially stressed households and that will come at a very high cost to the US taxpayer. And the plan does nothing to resolve the severe stress in money markets and interbank markets that are now close to a systemic meltdown.

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