Tuesday, January 20, 2009

US Treasury Demands Banks With TARP Funds Report Lending Activity

(Bloomberg) The U.S. Treasury, under pressure to revive lending, is demanding monthly reports from the banks that received the most capital from the government's $700 billion rescue program.

Neel Kashkari, the official who administers the Troubled Asset Relief Program, wrote to Citigroup Inc., Bank of America Corp. and 18 others on Jan. 16 seeking figures on business and consumer loans. Treasury also wanted details on purchases of mortgage-backed and asset-backed securities, according to documents obtained by Bloomberg News. Kashkari will stay for a few months after President-elect Barack Obama is sworn in today.

Obama's aides criticize outgoing Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's approach to rescues as lacking transparency and not doing enough to get credit flowing though the economy. While Paulson has defended the cash injections as having averted a collapse of the financial system, Obama had to pledge changes before lawmakers approved the release of the second $350 billion.

“Banks are becoming the whipping boy for the Treasury's failed policies,” said Joseph Mason, a Louisiana State University professor in Baton Rouge who previously worked at the Treasury's Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. “They're going to continue to face this pressure.”

Citigroup spokesman Michael Hanretta said the bank will meet all reporting requirements. Bank of America spokesman Scott Silvestri had no immediate comment.

Obama Considers New Bailout

Obama's advisers are considering options for dealing with troubled assets still clogging banks' balance sheets, according to people familiar with the matter. Among alternatives: setting up a government-backed “bad” or “aggregator” bank to hold the securities, or leaving the assets on banks' books and providing a government guarantee.

The Treasury also asked the banks for commentary on their lending activity, to provide “qualitative” updates on trends. In addition, the government wants information on secured lending and underwriting of debt and equities. The first report covers data for October, November and December and is due by Jan. 31. Results will be made public. Subsequent reports will be monthly.

The 20 banks receiving the Treasury's monthly data request are: Citigroup, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co., Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Morgan Stanley, PNC Financial Services Group Inc., U.S. Bancorp, SunTrust Banks Inc., Capital One Financial Corp., Regions Financial Corp., Fifth Third Bancorp., BB&T Corp., Bank of New York Mellon Corp., KeyCorp, CIT Group Inc., Comerica Inc., State Street Corp., Marshall & Ilsley Corp. and Northern Trust Corp.

Signal From Axelrod, Summers

Advisers to the incoming president called for more accountability from banks that receive taxpayer money. The new team will manage the TARP “in a much different way,” David Axelrod, Obama's chief political adviser, said Jan. 18 on ABC's “This Week” program.

“He is going to have a strong message for the bankers,” Axelrod said. “We want to see credit flowing again.”

Another aide went further, criticizing the results of TARP under Paulson.

“Anyone who looks at it has got to be disappointed when they look at what's happened to lending, have got to think the results have been unsatisfactory,” Lawrence Summers, director-designate of the National Economic Council, said on CBS's “Face the Nation” program Jan. 18.

By requesting monthly status reports, Treasury officials aim to dampen such criticism. The department also plans a quarterly comparison of banks that received rescue money with banks that didn't, as report data becomes available. In the meantime, the monthly statements will track the activity of the banks receiving the most aid.

Seeking Insight

“The purpose of this snapshot is to provide insight” into how banks are behaving after receiving rescue funds, the Treasury said in its letter to the banks.

Obama's team has asked some of Paulson's staff to stay on for the first few months of the administration. One of those officials, Kashkari, said last week that markets and the economy are mired “at a point of low confidence” that's slowing the flow of credit.

“As long as confidence remains low, banks will remain cautious about extending credit, and consumers and businesses will remain cautious about taking on new loans,” he said in a Jan. 13 speech. “As confidence returns, Treasury expects to see more credit extended.”

In the monthly reports, the Treasury is seeking specific information on first mortgages, home equity and credit card loans, along with a summary of other types of consumer lending. Requested business lending data includes commercial real estate lending and consumer and industrial loans.

Pressuring banks to boost lending runs the risk of encouraging more bad loans, and borrowers need to be spurred as well, said Bert Ely, chief executive officer of Ely & Co., a consulting firm in Alexandria, Virginia.

“This is all very political and the rhetoric is getting pretty fierce,” Ely said. “They're blaming the banks unfairly.”

1 comment:

ronald said...

Another Perspective -

Was There Ever a Default on U.S. Treasury Debt ?

by Alex J. Pollock

Spectator.Org (21-JAN-2009) - As the bailouts in the current bust inexorably mount, financed in rapidly increasing U.S. government debt, one might wonder whether a default on Treasury debt is imaginable. In the course of history, did the U.S. ever default on its debt?

Well, yes: The United States quite clearly and overtly defaulted on its debt as an expediency in 1933, the first year of Franklin Roosevelt's presidency. This was an intentional repudiation of its obligations, supported by a resolution of Congress and later upheld by the Supreme Court.

Granted, the circumstances were somewhat different in those days, since government finance still had a real tie to gold. In particular, U.S. bonds, including those issued to finance the American participation in the First World War, provided the holders of the bonds with an unambiguous promise that the U.S. government would give them the option to be repaid in gold coin.

Nobody doubted the clarity of this "gold clause" provision or the intent of both the debtor, the U.S. Treasury, and the creditors, the bond buyers, that the bondholders be protected against the depreciation of paper currency by the government.

Unfortunately for the bondholders, when President Roosevelt and the Congress decided that it was a good idea to depreciate the currency in the economic crisis of the time, they also decided not to honor their unambiguous obligation to pay in gold. On June 5, 1933, Congress passed a "Joint Resolution to Assure Uniform Value to the Coins and Currencies of the United States," of which two key points were as follows:

• "Provisions of obligations which purport to give the obligee a right to require payment in gold obstruct the power of the Congress."

• "Every provision contained in or made with respect to any obligation which purports to give the obligee a right to require payment is gold is declared to be against public policy."

"Purport"? "Against public policy"? Interesting rhetoric. In plain terms, the Congress was repudiating the government's obligations. So the bondholders got only depreciated paper money. The resulting lawsuits ended up in the Supreme Court, which upheld the ability of the government to refuse to pay in gold by a vote of 5-4.

The Supreme Court gold clause opinions of 1935 make instructive reading. The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice Hughes, includes these thoughts:

• "The question before the Court is one of power, not policy."

• "Contracts, however express, cannot fetter the constitutional authority of the Congress."

Justice McReynolds, writing on behalf of the four dissenting justices, left no doubt about their view:

• "The enactments here challenged will bring about the confiscation of property rights and repudiation of national obligations."

• "The holder of one of these certificates was owner of an express promise by the United States to deliver gold coin of the weight and fineness established."

• "Congress really has inaugurated a plan primarily designed to destroy private obligations, repudiate national debts, and drive into the Treasury all gold within the country in exchange for inconvertible promises to pay, of much less value."

• "Loss of reputation for honorable dealing will bring us unending humiliation."

The clearest summation of the judicial outcome was in the concurring opinion of Justice Stone, as a member of the majority:

• "While the government's refusal to make the stipulated payment is a measure taken in the exercise of that power, this does not disguise the fact that its action is to that extent a repudiation."

• "As much as I deplore this refusal to fulfill the solemn promise of bonds of the United States, I cannot escape the conclusion, announced for the Court, that the government, through exercise of its sovereign power, has rendered itself immune from liability."

So five of the nine justices explicitly stated that the obligations of the United States had been repudiated. There can be no doubt that the candid conclusion of this highly interesting chapter of our national financial history is that, under sufficient threat, crisis and pressure, a clear default on Treasury bonds did occur.

About 250 years ago, in a celebrated essay, "Of Public Credit," David Hume wrote:

"Contracting debt will almost infallibly be abused in every government. It would scarcely be more imprudent to give a prodigal son a credit in every banker's shop in London, than to empower a statesman to draw bills upon posterity."

Hume would have looked down from philosophical Valhalla in 1933-35 and seen his views confirmed. What, one wonders, would he be thinking now?

Letter to the Editor

Financial Crisis

Alex J. Pollock is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute