Geithner plan is a wasteful delaying action – nationalization inevitable

I made an attempt to explain to my international finance students today why the Geithner plan won’t work, relying heavily and gratefully on the wonderful analysis of Salman Khan of the YouTube based KhanAcademy.

Turns out Khan is thinking along the same wave length as Nobel prize winning economist Joe Stiglitz who wrote a devastating critique in the New York Times today indicating that the Geithner plan is nothing more than a “Rube Goldberg” machine that “has allowed the administration to avoid going back to Congress to ask for the money needed to fix our banks, and it provided a way to avoid nationalization.”

What is at the heart of the Khan/Stiglitz argument? That the banks are sitting on assets that have a market price that is far less than the money those banks owe to their lenders and shareholders. If they can’t sell those assets at a much higher price they are effectively insolvent.

So the Government is proposing to buy those assets for more than they are worth with the US taxpayer putting up 93 percent of the purchase price and the so-called private “partners” putting up only 7%. That amounts to a huge subsidy to current creditors and equity holders of the banks that caused the problem in the first place. Oh, and probably allows their top managers to keep their jobs.

But wait there’s more.  If the assets turn out to be worth more than that juiced up price paid by the new Public-Private Partnerships in the Geithner reworking of the old Paulson TARP plan then the US Government gets only 50% of the upside, since most of the money put in by the Government is in the form of a loan not equity. The other 50% goes to the private partner, including big financial groups like PIMCO and BlackRock.

And the loan to the partnership from the Government is a non-recourse loan which means if the entity loses money the Government has no ability to go after the assets of the private partner, even though they will have managed the business into a loss!

No wonder groups like PIMCO and BlackRock said they would participate and no wonder Wall Street rallied on the announcement of the plan. It’s a win-win for the banks and for the private partners. The real risk is taken by the US taxpayer.