I'm more than a little depressed that Obama has done such a poor job selling the stimulus package, but a great job on rationalizing this toxic "bad bank" proposal. Yves at Naked Capitalism says it's even worse than you imagine:
So we the taxpayers are going to eat a ton of bank losses that should instead be borne first by stockholders and bondholders,]. This program should be labeled the Pimco bailout plan, since the giant bond fund holds a lot of bank debt. That shows what a fiction Obama's populism is. It's mere posturing and empty phrases. Look at where the dough goes, and it is going first and foremost to the big money end of town.
Now I do not labor under the delusion that there are cheap or easy ways out of our financial sinkhole. People are suffering, and we are only partway through the process of contraction and write-offs. I heard of a suicide today, a jewelry dealer who was $400,000 in debt (also owed a lot of money but unable to collect) who threw himself off 10 West 47th Street (from someone else in the building, this is no urban legend). A tragedy, and a visible one, and there is plenty of less acute but no less real trauma afoot.
But Team Obama is taking the cowardly approach of distributing the costs among the most disenfranchised group in the process, namely the taxpayer, when there far more obvious and logical groups to take the hits. Shareholders and bondholders bought securities KNOWING there was the possibility of loss. A lot of big financial institutions have been on the ropes for over a year. A security holding is not a marriage. When conditions change, prudent investors reassess and adjust course accordingly. If anyone is long a lot of dodgy bank paper now, they have only themselves to blame. Any why are rank and file bankers still exempt from pay cuts when the workers in another failing US industry, autos, expected to take big hits?
This is the most roundabout and probably the most costly way to not solve this problem. Another warning from the IMF paper:
All too often, central banks privilege stability over cost in the heat of the containment phase: if so, they may too liberally extend loans to an illiquid bank which is almost certain to prove insolvent anyway. Also, closure of a nonviable bank is often delayed for too long, even when there are clear signs of insolvency (Lindgren, 2003). Since bank closures face many obstacles, there is a tendency to rely instead on blanket government guarantees which, if the government’s fiscal and political position makes them credible, can work albeit at the cost of placing the burden on the budget, typically squeezing future provision of needed public services.
The most amazing bit is the government acts as if it has no leverage. Look how Paulson sent teams in to inspect the accounts of Fannie and Freddie and put them into conservatorship. The reason it is obvious that this program is a crock is that it has been cooked up in the complete and utter absence of any serious due diligence on the toxic holdings of the big banks.
As we discuss in a separate post, the one punitive element, executive comp restrictions, are mere window-dressing. Welcome to change you can believe in.