Posted tagged ‘TARP’

A Recounting of Recent History

July 28, 2009

Yes, I’m alive! I’m terribly sorry for the extended silence, but I’ve had some big changes going on in my personal life and have been out of the loop for a while (honestly, my feed reader needs to start reading itself–I have over 1,000 unread posts when looking at just 4 financial feeds). So, here’s what I haven’t had a chance to post…

1. I totally missed the most recent trainwreck of a P.R. move at Citi. There is so much crap going on around Citi… I really intend to write a post that is essentially a linkfest of Citi material that stitches together the narrative of how Citi got into this mess and how Citi continues to do itself no favors. There was also a completely vapid opinion piece from Charlie Gasperino that said absolutely nothing new, save for one sentence, and then ended with a ridiculous comparison that was clearly meant to generate links. I’m not even going to link to it… It was on the Daily Beast, if you must find it.

2. I haven’t really had the opportunity to comment on the Obama administration’s overhaul of the financial regulatory apparatus. Honestly, it sucks. It doesn’t do much and gives too much power to the Fed. You’d think that after that recent scandal within the ranks of the Fed there would be a political issue with giving it more power. Even more interestingly, all other major initiatives from the Obama administration have been drafted by congress. Here, the white paper came from the Whitehouse itself. That won’t do too much to quiet the critics who are claiming that the Whitehouse is too close to Wall St. Honestly, if one is to use actions instead of words to measure one’s intentions, then it’s hard to point to any evidence that the Obama administration isn’t in the bag for the financial services industry.

3. The Obama administration did an admirable job with G.M. and Chrysler. They were both pulled through bankruptcy, courts affirmed the actions, and there was a minimal disruption in their businesses. Stakeholders were brought to the table, people standing to lose from the bankruptcy, the same people (I use that word loosely–most are institutions) who provided capital to risky enterprises, were forced to take losses, and the U.S.A. now has something it has never had: an auto industry where the U.A.W. has a stake and active interest in the companies that employ its members. Perhaps the lesson, specifically that poorly run firms that need to be saved should cause consequences for the people who caused the problems (both by providing capital and providing inadequate management), will take hold in the financial services sector too–I’m not holding my breath, though.

4. Remember this problem I wrote about? Of course not, that is one of my least popular posts! However, some of the questions are being answered. Specifically, the questions about how and when the government will get rid of its ownership stakes, and at what price, are starting to be filled in. It was rather minor news when firms started paying T.A.R.P. funds back. However, the issue of dealing with warrants the government owns was a thornier issue. Two banks have dealt with this issue–Goldman purchased the securities at a price that gives the taxpayers a 23% return on their investment and JP Morgan decided that it would forgo a negotiated purchase and forced the U.S. Treasury to auction the warrants.

On a side note: From this WSJ article linked to above, its a bit maddening to read this:

The Treasury has rejected the vast majority of valuation proposals from banks, saying the firms are undervaluing what the warrants are worth, these people said. That has prompted complaints from some top executives. […] James Dimon raised the issue directly with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, disagreeing with some of the valuation methods that the government was using to value the warrants.

(Emphasis mine.)

If I were on the other end of the line, my response would be simple: “Well, Jamie, I agree. The assumptions we use to value securities here at the U.S. government can be, well … off. So, we’ll offer you what you think is fair for the warrants if you’ll pay back the $4.4 billion subsidy we paid when we initially infused your bank with T.A.R.P. funds.” Actually, I probably would have had a meeting with all recipients about it and quoted a very high price for these warrants and declared the terms and prices non-negotiable–does anyone really think that, in the face of executive pay restrictions, these firms wouldn’t have paid whatever it would take to get out from under the governments thumb? As long as one investment banker could come up with assumptions that got the number, they would have paid it. Okay, that’s all for my aside.

5. I’m dreadfully behind on my reading… Seriously. Here’s a list of articles I haven’t yet read, but intend to…

I hope to get more time to post in the coming days. Also, I am toying with the idea of writing more frequent, much shorter posts. On the order of a paragraph where I just toss out a thought. Not really my style, but maybe it would be good. Feedback appreciated.

Repaying T.A.R.P.: There Are Restrictions

April 21, 2009

There is a meme (did you know that word was invented by Richard Dawkins?) going around the blogosphere that, in essence, says Geithner doesn’t have the right to prevent T.A.R.P. repayment, even if no fresh capital is raised. This is incorrect. From the Goldman Sachs T.A.R.P. agreements [pdf!] governing the capital infusion (it’s hidden on the site, but there!):

tarpcovenant

(Emphasis [yes, that’s the green underlining] mine.)

Seems, then, that it’s pretty clear. Whole or partial payments, once allowed by a regulator, require fresh equity raised from a “Qualified Equity Offering.” This is a defined term, and the document defines it as follows:

equityoffering

So, it seems pretty cleat that there are conditions. Now, maybe these aren’t the systemic considerations, but that’s likely why the regulatory approval is required, especially in conjunction with the “stress test,” which we’ve discussed here at length.

How to Fix the Compensation Issue… Yesterday!

April 15, 2009

With all the tone-deafness that followed the great compensation debate of 2009, I have a very simple solution. The problem, despite what people commonly believe, is not the absolute level of compensation. No, it’s the fact that management’s personal incentives and employees’ incentives are aligned–shareholders are still in the wilderness. How many times have we heard the trite, absolutely silly refrain stating “we need to pay the valuable people that know where the bodies are buried so they can dispose of them!”? Way too many. Although, there are dozens of examples of retention bonuses being paid to people as they resign… Idiots.

So, what do I suggest? Add all compensation, beyond a base limit, say $250,000, as T.A.R.P. debt to institutions who have already received funds under the program–and the interest rate from this new debt should be very high. I would suggest… okay, I never merely suggest… I would demand (better!) that this new debt carry a high coupon. Maybe even ensure the interest owed is cutely linked to the way these publicly owned (partially, anyway) institutions are negatively impacting our economy. One example: this new debt could carry an interest rate equal to the greater of the (a) median of the top quartile of credit card interest rates issued by the company in question and (b) 24.99%.

Now, what does this do? It better aligns management and shareholders. How can a C.E.O. allow divisions that lost billions to run up it’s debt? And, how can an institution award these bonuses necessary to pay people, right out of taxpayer money, if they aren’t willing to pay it back later? By definition, every dollar that flows into the pockets of employees can’t go back to the taxpayers whose money saved these same institutions. Once managers need to actually justify why they are paying people, due to the higher cost, I guarantee fewer employees will receive these higher bonuses. Gone will be the cuspy performers who are being paid because Wall St. is a creature of habit. This will create a wholesale re-thinking of compensation at many institutions. And, honestly, it’s long overdue. To be honest, I don’t really view this higher cost as excessive, either. People being paid 8-12% of profits (it’s actually revenue traders are compensated on, but don’t tell anyone that) should wind up actually costing 10%-20% of profits with this excess debt, perhaps as high as 30%–but these employees continue to be employed and able to profit due to taxpayer funds to begin with. It’s time managers are required justify, to their boards and owners, why high compensation for various employees is necessary. And, since companies say a surtax or banning of bonuses is bad and bonuses are absolutely required, they should be more than willing to pay these higher rates–they need these people after all!

All the Important Stories Without the Word “Commode” in Them

January 27, 2009

We learned a lot today, although tomorrow we might find that we learned completely different things. Here are the articles that prove the idiom, “When it rains it pours.”

1. Citi, in what can only be described as a series of epic P.R. fails, purchased a $50 million jet. Next in the series was this paragraph from DealBook:

A Citigroup spokesperson told DealBook that he could not confirm the reports that the bank was set to take control of a new jet, citing “security” concerns. “Executives are encouraged to fly commercial whenever possible to reduce expenses,” Citi said in a statement.

Seriously? Security concerns? Now, there are some rumblings that the jet was purchased two years ago. However, if there was ever a time to wage the P.R. war and risk getting sued to keep the big picture impression of your firm together, this was it. I can, without a doubt, say that if I were sitting in Vikram’s seat I would be refusing to pay for the jet or take delivery of it, and would be doing whatever I could to be sued. The headline, “Citi Sued for Failing to Honor Commitment to Purchase Corporate Jet” sounds like music compared to “Citigroup Likely to Face Criticism Over Jet” (the actual DealBook headline).

And in the end, they ceded the ground anyway.

2. Congratulations, you’ve hired some lobbyists! It turns out that a whole bunch of firms, including Citi, American Express, Capital One, Goldman Sachs, KeyCorp, Morgan Stanley, PNC and Bank of New York Mellon, all hired lobbyists. The whole notion of a company hiring a lobbyist, clearly, leads to obvious questions about companies representing their own interests and those of their shareholders instead of those of the people (who, now, are also their shareholders). I can’t possibly imagine what firms are thinking when they hire these lobbyists, except that they will “get away with it.” Absolutely ridiculous.

And, no sooner than I had noted this, newly confirmed Treasury Secretary Geithner cracks down on lobbying.

3. Apparently, Bank of America approved everything they used against John Thain when it came time to push him out. From the Elusive January 23rd version of the WSJ article:

Thain also left for a vacation in Vail, Colo., after the losses came to light, accelerated bonus payments at Merrill so they could be collected before the end of the year and scheduled a trip this week to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland […]

Vitriol between the Bank of America and Merrill camps also stemmed from the fact that Merrill had paid out bonuses much earlier than expected. A person familiar with Merrill’s bonus scheme said executives typically are told what their bonus will be by the second week of January and the payments are made in the second half of the month. Some people inside Bank of America believe Merrill accelerated the payouts to avoid having them cut amid a much-leaner plan at Bank of America.

(Emphasis mine.)

And, from the FT:

Ken Lewis, BofA’s embattled chief executive, ousted Mr Thain on Thursday after news of the bonus payments appeared in the Financial Times. BofA told the FT last week that Mr Thain had made the decision to pay bonuses in December instead of January and it had been “informed” of the move. The bank said Merrill was an independent company until the deal closed on January 1.

[…]

BofA yesterday confirmed there were conversations about the bonus payments prior to the pay-outs: “We never said we didn’t talk with them about it. But, in the end, it was their decision and they informed us of it.”

(Emphasis mine.)

Jeeze. Ken Lewis needs to go… His P.R. war to keep his job despite fleecing taxpayers is pathetic.


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