The “Geithner Put”: It’s time to break up the big banks

“We will preserve the banking system that is owned and managed by the private sector” Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Timothy Geithner is putting the finishing touches on a plan that will dump $1 trillion of toxic assets onto the US taxpayer.  The plan, which goes by the opaque moniker the “Public-Private Investment Fund” (PPIF), is designed to provide lavish incentives to hedge funds and private equity firms to purchase bad assets from failing banks. It is a sweetheart deal that provides government financing and guarantees for illiquid mortgage-backed junk for which there is no active market. As one might expect, the charismatic President Obama has been called in to generate public support for this latest addition to the TARP bailout. In this week’s address to Congress he said:

“This administration is moving swiftly and aggressively to restore confidence, and re-start lending.
We will do so in several ways.  First, we are creating a new lending fund that represents the largest effort ever to help provide auto loans, college loans, and small business loans to the consumers and entrepreneurs who keep this economy running.”

The Obama administration is clearly afraid to use the unpopular Geithner to sell this boondoggle to the American people. Geithner’s last performance set off a political firestorm and put the equities markets into a swan-dive. No one wants to see that again.

Details of the plan remain sketchy, but the PPIF will work in concert with the Fed’s new lending facility, the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, or TALF, which will start operating in March and will provide up to $1 trillion of financing for buyers of new securities backed by credit card, auto and small-business loans. Geithner’s financial rescue “partnership” will also focus on cleaning up banks balance sheets by purging mortgage-backed securities. (MBS)

In Monday’s New york Times, Paul Krugman summed up the Geithner plan like this:

“Now the administration is talking about a “public-private partnership” to buy troubled assets from the banks, with the government lending money to private investors for that purpose. This would offer investors a one-way bet: if the assets rise in price, investors win; if they fall substantially, investors walk away and leave the government holding the bag. Again, heads they win, tails we lose.
Why not just go ahead and nationalize?”

Why not, indeed, except for the fact that Geithner’s main objective is to “keep the banks in private hands” regardless of the cost to the taxpayer. The Treasury Secretary believes that if he presents his plan a “lending program” rather than another trillion dollar freebie from Uncle Sam, he’ll have a better chance slipping it by Congress and thereby preserving the present management structure at the banks. Keeping the banking giants intact is “Job 1″ at the Treasury.

The PPIF is a way of showering speculators with subsidies to purchase non-performing loans at bargain-basement prices.  The Fed is using a similar strategy with the TALF which, according to the New York Times, could easily generate “annual returns of 20 percent or more” for those who borrow from the facility.

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