Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Compelling banks to lend at bazooka point

(Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis) For now, you can force banks to take money, but you can't force them to lend it. Let's explore this theory starting with a look at the Drama Behind a $250 Billion Banking Deal:

The chief executives of the nine largest banks in the United States trooped into a gilded conference room at the Treasury Department at 3 p.m. Monday. To their astonishment, they were each handed a one-page document that said they agreed to sell shares to the government, then Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. said they must sign it before they left.

The chairman of JPMorgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, was receptive, saying he thought the deal looked pretty good once he ran the numbers through his head. The chairman of Wells Fargo, Richard M. Kovacevich, protested strongly that, unlike his New York rivals, his bank was not in trouble because of investments in exotic mortgages, and did not need a bailout, according to people briefed on the meeting.

But by 6:30, all nine chief executives had signed — setting in motion the largest government intervention in the American banking system since the Depression and retreating from the rescue plan Mr. Paulson had fought so hard to get through Congress only two weeks earlier.

What happened during those three and a half hours is a story of high drama and brief conflict, followed by acquiescence by the bankers, who felt they had little choice but to go along with the Treasury plan to inject $250 billion of capital into thousands of banks — starting with theirs.

In addition to the capital infusions, which will be made this week, the government said it would temporarily guarantee $1.5 trillion in new senior debt issued by banks, as well as insure $500 billion in deposits in noninterest-bearing accounts, mainly used by businesses.

All told, the potential cost to the government of the latest bailout package comes to $2.25 trillion, triple the size of the original $700 billion rescue package, which centered on buying distressed assets from banks. The latest show of government firepower is an abrupt about-face for Mr. Paulson, who just days earlier was discouraging the idea of capital injections for banks.

The Treasury will receive preferred shares that pay a 5 percent dividend, rising to 9 percent after five years. It will get warrants to purchase common shares, equivalent to 15 percent of its initial investment. But the Treasury said it would not exercise its right to vote those common shares.

“It was a take it or take it offer,” said one person who was briefed on the meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity because the discussions were private. “Everyone knew there was only one answer.”

[However,] Bloomberg is reporting Paulson Lacks Leverage to Compel Banks to Put New Cash to Work. There seems to be a fine line between (1) Illegally forcing supposedly well capitalized banks at bazooka point to take money on questionable terms, and (2) And illegally forcing those same banks at bazooka point to lend it.

If the goal is to get LIBOR down, then I propose the following: Bank of America lends money to Citigroup who lends money to Wells Fargo who lends money to JPMorgan who lends money to Bank of America. We can have a big circle of all 9 banks forced at bazooka point to take money, to lend money to each other. LIBOR comes down and everyone is happy.

That is not a serious proposal of course, even though pretend lending makes far more sense than massive amounts of real lending.

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