Monday, March 23, 2009

The “Geithner Put” (Part 1)

Posted on Self-Evident:

The details of the “Geithner Put” have been released. It has two parts: One to deal specifically with bad loans, the other to deal with other legacy assets (securitized yadda yadda). In this post I will discuss the first part, dubbed the “Legacy Loans Program”.

The Treasury helpfully provides an example, which I reproduce here:

Step 1: If a bank has a pool of residential mortgages with $100 face value that it is seeking to divest, the bank would approach the FDIC.

Step 2: The FDIC would determine, according to the above process, that they would be willing to leverage the pool at a 6-to-1 debt-to-equity ratio.

Step 3: The pool would then be auctioned by the FDIC, with several private sector bidders submitting bids. The highest bid from the private sector – in this example, $84 – would be the winner and would form a Public-Private Investment Fund to purchase the pool of mortgages.

Step 4: Of this $84 purchase price, the FDIC would provide guarantees for $72 of financing, leaving $12 of equity.

Step 5: The Treasury would then provide 50% of the equity funding required on a side-by-side basis with the investor. In this example, Treasury would invest approximately $6, with the private investor contributing $6.

Step 6: The private investor would then manage the servicing of the asset pool and the timing of its disposition on an ongoing basis – using asset managers approved and subject to oversight by the FDIC.

Let’s flesh this out by repeating it 100 times. So say a bank has 100 of these $100 loan pools. And just by way of example, suppose half of them are actually worth $100 and half of them are actually worth zero, and nobody knows which are which. (These numbers are made up but the principle is sound. Nobody knows what the assets are really worth because it depends on future events, like who actually defaults on their mortgages.)

Thus, on average the pools are worth $50 each and the true value of all 100 pools is $5000.

The FDIC provides 6:1 leverage to purchase each pool, and some investor (e.g., a private equity firm) takes them up on it, bidding $84 apiece. Between the FDIC leverage and the Treasury matching funds, the private equity firm thus offers $8400 for all 100 pools but only puts in $600 of its own money.

Half of the pools wind up worthless, so the investor loses $300 total on those. But the other half wind up worth $100 each for a $16 profit. $16 times 50 pools equals $800 total profit which is split 1:1 with the Treasury. So the investor gains $400 on these winning pools. A $400 gain plus a $300 loss equals a $100 net gain, so the investor risked $600 to make $100, a tidy 16.7% return.

The bank unloaded assets worth $5000 for $8400. So the private investor gained $100, the Treasury gained $100, and the bank gained $3400. Somebody must therefore have lost $3600…

…and that would be the FDIC, who was so foolish as to offer 6:1 leverage to purchase assets with a 50% chance of being worthless. But no worries. As long as the FDIC has more expertise in valuing toxic assets than the entire private equity and banking worlds combined, there is no way they could be taken to the cleaners like this. What could possibly go wrong?

In response to some of the comments on this post:

Yes, with the auction process, the assets will get bid up to the point where private equity (and Treasury alongside them) do not make such massive profits. But in the process, the outcome becomes even sweeter for the bank and worse for the FDIC. This appears to be the entire point of the exercise.

And yes, the FDIC is funded by the banking industry itself. Or has been so far.

Since the day-to-day mission of the folks at FDIC is concered with defending the integrity of their insurance fund — that is why they seize banks in the first place — this proposal is likely anathema to the culture of the organization. And I did read somewhere about rumors that some people at FDIC were objecting to this plan. (Sorry, I lost the reference.) This rings true to me.

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