Monday, March 23, 2009

Surprise, Surprise: Potential Participants in Toxic Assets Plan Ask Government to Stay Away From Executive Compensation

Today, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner will begin marketing his plan to encourage private investors to partner with the government and purchase nearly $1 trillion in "troubled" mortgage-backed assets from financial institutions. The government's plan rests on the assumption that the troubled assets actually have value, but because the market cannot accurately measure their value, the assets are causing a credit collapse. After the assets are removed from companies' balance sheets, credit will flow once again. Also, once the market realizes the value of the assets, the government (i.e., taxpayers) and private investors will enjoy profits from their investments.

The New York Times reports that some potential investors fear that the government will regulate the compensation of executives who participate in the plan. Given the outrage over AIG, their concern is legitimate:

[S]ome executives at private equity firms and hedge funds, who were briefed on the plan Sunday afternoon, are anxious about the recent uproar over millions of dollars in bonus payments made to executives of the American International Group.

Some of them have told administration officials that they would participate only if the government guaranteed that it would not set compensation limits on the firms, according to people briefed on the conversations. The executives also expressed worries about whether disclosure and governance rules could be added retroactively to the program by Congress, these people said.
Obama administration officials tried to allay those fears on the Sunday news circuit:

Administration officials took to the airwaves Sunday to reassure investors that the public would distinguish between companies like A.I.G., which are taking government bailout money, and private investment groups that, under this latest plan, would be helping the government take troubled assets off the books of some of the country’s biggest banks.

“What we’re talking about now are private firms that are kind of doing us a favor, right, coming into this market to help us buy these toxic assets off banks’ balance sheets,” Christina D. Romer, the White House’s chief economist, said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.”

“I think they understand that the president realizes they’re in a different category,” she said, adding, “They are firms that are being the good guys here.”
Nice try, but . . .
The "good guys" language undermines the government's position that the bailout is policy - not handouts to wrongdoers. It also conflicts with the government's previous opposition to meaningful limits on executive compensation. If the new investors are "good guys," while TARP participants are "bad guys," then the government has a good reason to regulate compensation for the latter.

Finally, I suspect that many of the "good guys" will come from the "bad guys'" industry. The world of sophisticated financial investors is tiny. The people with knowledge, resources, and professional credentials to manage and organize the proposed purchase of troubled assets will undoubtedly have worked in institutions that hold these same assets; they could even have work experience designing and marketing the very securities that have spread so much risk across the market. For this reason, some type of disclosure process seems relevant.

Also on Dissenting Justice:

Tangled Webs: Goldman Sachs, AIG and the Feds

Professor Balkin Defends Constitutionality of Bonus Tax

Richard Bernstein of Bank of America-Merrill Lynch Says: Sell Financial Stocks


Mark G said...

The political class prefers to "outsource" problems to private entities. That way, the politicians take the credit of things go well and can blame the capitalist pigs if they don't. An added bonus, the private entities become a source of jobs for the politicos while they are in between government jobs, an a source of vital campaign funds.

Given the fundamental corruption of government side of this "partnership," the private sector side is likewise bound to be marked by profiteering, not civic-minded integrity.

Roy Lofquist said...


I think, also, that the Congress' behavior in passing the take back tax bill (arguably an ex post facto bill of attainder) is going to scare off a lot of potential investors. Investment always entails risk. If the deal includes a wild card like Congress they'd be more likely to go to the craps table in Vegas.


Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

The Ex Post Facto clause only applies to "criminal" punishment - but the court has used "retroactivity" to eliminate civil liability under the due process clause.

Dave said...

This merely reinforces my belief that elected officials aren't really very smart. Glib, perhaps. Sometimes have a good personality. Likeable, yeah, maybe. But smart, no.

Anonymous said...

you are right on
the average IQ and SAT scores of congressmen and president is around 120/ 1200 (old SAT). Not bad but certainly not stellar.

A Jacksonian said...

Hmmm... folks wanting the government to stop playing Calvinball with the economy and companies? Good luck on that, I tell ya.

Better get ready to sing the 'Very Sorry Song' quite often.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Dave and anonymous: I am not sure politicians are less intelligent, but they certainly are not uniformly smart. I think part of their problem is the desire (necessity?) to appeal to so many different interests. Before the Internet, I think that was a little easier. Now there is a record of just about everything they say publicly, which makes dissecting their words and plucking out the contradictions much easier.

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