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Tim Geithner's Black Hole
From: David Farber <dave () farber net>
Date: Wed, 11 Mar 2009 04:38:45 -0400



Begin forwarded message:

From: dewayne () warpspeed com (Dewayne Hendricks)
Date: March 10, 2009 11:28:56 AM EDT
To: Dewayne-Net Technology List <xyzzy () warpspeed com>
Subject: [Dewayne-Net] Tim Geithner's Black Hole

[Note: Worth reading & scary!  DLH]

Tim Geithner's Black Hole
By David M. Smick
Tuesday, March 10, 2009; A13

<http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/09/AR2009030902232.html >

Pity Barack Obama's economic advisers. The blogs are now demanding their scalps, and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and his colleagues face a nasty dilemma: There are no solutions to the banking crisis without extraordinary political and financial risks. Thus, they have adopted a three-pronged approach, delay, delay, delay, in the hope that somebody comes up with a breakthrough. Here's the problem: Today's true market value of the U.S. banks' toxic assets (that ugly stuff that needs to be removed from bank balance sheets before the economy can recover) amounts to between 5 and 30 cents on the dollar. To remain solvent, however, the banks say they need a valuation of 50 to 60 cents on the dollar. Translation: as much as another $2 trillion taxpayer bailout.

That kind of expensive solution could send the president's approval rating into a nose dive. Consider: $2 trillion is about two-thirds of the tax revenue the federal government collects each year.

The logical alternative -- talk show hosts' solution du jour -- is to temporarily restructure or nationalize the banks and leave taxpayers alone. Remove the toxic assets, replace management and cut the too-big- to-fail financial dinosaurs into smaller, nimbler entities. Then reprivatize these smaller banks and let the recovery begin.

Oh, if it were that simple. I suspect Obama's advisers would like nothing more than to dismantle an irresponsible firm such as Citigroup. They are afraid to do so, for one reason: All the big banks are connected to a potentially lethal web of paper insurance instruments called credit default swaps. These paper derivatives have become our financial system's new master.

The theory holds that dismantling a big bank could unravel this paper market, with catastrophic global financial consequences. Or not. Nobody knows, because the market for these unregulated financial derivatives, amounting potentially to over $40 trillion (by comparison, global gross domestic product is now not much more than $60 trillion), is the financial equivalent of uncharted waters.

Geithner has reason to be terrified. He was part of the Henry Paulson- led team that underestimated the devastating global-contagion effect of the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Geithner won't make the mistake of underestimation again.

Geithner also knows that the mood in Congress has changed. Were a global financial brush fire to break out as a result of bank restructuring or nationalization, today's populist Congress might just let it burn. Congressional anger is likely to intensify when policymakers realize that credit default swaps demand a stream of premium payments like a life insurance policy, not just a payment due at termination. And recent signs indicate that firms such as Citigroup, in recycling their taxpayer bailout funding, may have helped other financial firms, including some in Europe, meet these payment obligations.

In addition, Geithner worries that because the troubled insurance giant American International Group (AIG) is a conduit for the banks' use of credit default swaps, a collapse of AIG (as an unintended consequence of dismantling the big banks) could be catastrophic. AIG's more than 300 million terrified holders of insurance-related investments and pension funds, who have investments totaling $20 trillion (U.S. GDP is $14 trillion), could suddenly rush for redemptions -- the equivalent of a run on a bank. Geithner would face a worldwide insurance collapse to accompany his global banking collapse.

[snip]
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