HuffPo reports Treasury has allowed three more banks (including Goldman) to pay back warrants, before Congress has had a chance to force them to setup an auction system.

BUT

They also report that GS paid full price for theirs (using professor Wilson’s models).  Wilson speculated that “Goldman Sachs decided to pay fair price to avoid more of the bad press that’s been coming its way the last several months”.

Now Elizabeth Warren and the C.O.P is piling on:

The Congressional Oversight Panel, which is charged with overseeing the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, said in a report that a group of 11 small banks that have repurchased government warrants in exchange for taxpayer-funded assistance, have bought-out the stakes at 66% of their face value.

The report argues that liquidity discounts are a key factor for why the warrants were purchased at such low prices. Should a similar discount be a major factor for warrant repurchases at larger institutions buying out government stakes, the shortfall to taxpayers could be as much as $2.1 billion, the report said.

The report said the C.O.P. is exploring the possibility that Treasury consider selling the TARP warrants in an open, public auction, as an alternative that could possibly give taxpayers a better valuation for the stakes.

“This has the benefit of stopping any speculation about whether Treasury has been too tough or too easy on the banks that want to repurchase their own warrants. It also permits the banks to bid for their own warrants — in direct competition with outsiders,” the report said.

This open market is the same thing Simon Johnson and others have been advocating.  I hope everyone continues applying pressure.  It’s not too late to change the approach.

The Treasury’s plan for selling back TARP warrants was announced last weekend, and it looks bad.

Simon Johnson gets pretty close to calling it corrupt, and he is right: Even if individuals have the best intentions, a poorly laid system will corrupt them.  This is such a system.

If Obama goes through with it he will be making a big mistake: Giving Republicans amunition for the midterms and opening his administration to accusations of favoritism and backroom dealing, all while they could be getting a meaningful return and hoisting it as proof that the bank bailout was not all just a huge waste.

Cheap warrants

May 20, 2009

I’ve argued that we all benefited from the bubble (before it popped).  I thought Taibbi’s piece on Wall Street’s power grab was pure conspiracy-monguering.  I’ve even been skeptical of Krugman and HuffPo bloggers’ accusation that Geithner and Obama are in the banks’ pocket.

But now I’m very concerned:  Banks are buying back their warrants???

We lent them money, with great risk, and as a condition we got warrants to buy X amount of shares at some price.  These contracts have long multi-year terms, so the government can choose to exercise them after the institutions are back in shape, and their stock worth a lot more.  At least that WAS the bargain.

Now some banks are starting to buy back their warrants, which the contract specifies is allowed at ‘fair market value’, but apparently they are getting sweetheart deals.

As a taxpayer I support a bailout, but if we are to take on risk, we must participate on the reward as well.

This doesn’t just erode trust on the administration:  Having nothing to show in the way of a return after this mess will make it that much harder to get public opinion behind another costly intervention if needed.

UPDATE 5/20: Barry Ritholtz is now on top of this.  I really hope it gets traction.  Today I will call my congresswoman.

UPDATE 5/22: Bloomberg picked up the story! They’re using prof. Wilson’s model to calculate we would be fleeced out of 10 billion by the top 20 TARP recipients alone.

I agree with Friedman entirely:

Yet I read that we’re actually holding up dozens of key appointments at the Treasury Department because we are worried whether someone paid Social Security taxes on a nanny hired 20 years ago at $5 an hour. That’s insane. It’s as if our financial house is burning down but we won’t let the Fire Department open the hydrant until it assures us that there isn’t too much chlorine in the water. Hello?

Poor Timmy has to save the banks, comfort the market, plan for the G-20 meeting, and reform the entire financial system, on his own.

A little less vetting at this point would be nice.

Reid, you need to work on giving Obama some cover.  Get the man the votes!