Monday, April 06, 2009

Sachs says that Geithner plan is just a giveaway.

Jeffrey Sachs today wrote an opinion piece which thoroughly trashed the Geithner plan. Despite its stated intentions, the Geithner plan, according to Sachs, will allow institutions to unload all of their worthless (market price = $0) toxic assets at full price (full price = "more fictitious than Harry Potter") courtesy of the US taxpayer. In other words, the "rescue plan" amounts to nothing more than a direct transfer of funds from the American taxpayer to the banks that caused the mess we're in. Dr. Sachs demonstrates this using a hypothetical example involving Citibank and $1M in worthless toxic--er, legacy--assets.

Here's how. Consider a toxic asset held by Citibank with a face value of $1 million, but with zero probability of any payout and therefore with a zero market value. An outside bidder would not pay anything for such an asset. All of the previous articles consider the case of true outside bidders.

Suppose, however, that Citibank itself sets up a Citibank Public-Private Investment Fund (CPPIF) under the Geithner-Summers plan. The CPPIF will bid the full face value of $1 million for the worthless asset, because it can borrow $850K from the FDIC, and get $75K from the Treasury, to make the purchase! Citibank will only have to put in $75K of the total.

Citibank thereby receives $1 million for the worthless asset, while the CPPIF ends up with an utterly worthless asset against $850K in debt to the FDIC. The CPPIF therefore quietly declares bankruptcy, while Citibank walks away with a cool $1 million. Citibank's net profit on the transaction is $925K (remember that the bank invested $75K in the CPPIF) and the taxpayers lose $925K. Since the total of toxic assets in the banking system exceeds $1 trillion, and perhaps reaches $2-3 trillion, the amount of potential rip-off in the Geithner-Summers plan is unconscionably large.

I'm not sure whether I'm more consumed with anger or despair over this. If Sachs is right about this, that plan cannot be allowed to go forward. And it's not like there isn't a better (or at least radically different) plan out there. Sachs brings that up too in his piece.

Obama: Please start listening to Sachs, Krugman, Stiglitz, etal!

(via Paul Krugman)

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