Lieutenant Island Views : Commentary About Finance, Politics and Baseball

Paul, We Love You But Get a Grip!

March 27, 2009
2 Comments

The same guy who says that the Obama Administration should be spending trillions more on everything does not like the government’s plan to liquify toxic bank assets. He also seems to hate the capital markets. I guess he thinks that the incremental trillions he wants us to spend come from the printing press rather than the global markets.

What is the real source of his problem? He is is a truly smart guy but today’s piece in the New York Times really lacks clarity. His article “The Market Mystique” fulminates on multiple topics but never really specifies the underlying sources of his problems.

He clearly sees a need for more regulation of markets and then grudgingly admits that the Obama Administration is moving to significantly increase regulation. He dislikes markets and won’t come to grip with the fact that they can’t be ignored. He seems to forget that even in his favorite generation, the fifties, the government used markets to finance its operations. Maybe he thinks that in that era, America was like the Fonz and always had money but did not have to do anything to get it! Only the Fonz failed to realize that there is no free lunch.

It is less clear what Krugman wants other than for banks to admit that the assets have a low value. The argument comes down to what is fair value. If banks follow Krugman’s draconian solution, it could be Lehman redux, unless mark to market rules are eliminated, which his logic would argue against. Forcing big markdowns triggers capital inadequacy issues and, probably, government takeover (s) of some big banks. In this scenario, the FDIC gets to own the assets and probably lots more as a result of a collapse in market confidence (remember what happened when Lehman fell). The government would have to step in and, like it or not, figure out how to finance everything it acquired. It would have to go to the markets. The fellows who make up the markets might not have a Krugmanesque point of view (those Chinese fellows, in particular, have no sense of humor when it comes to losing money in American assets). The elegant thing about the Geithner plan is that it does not deny the valuation issue and provides government funding. The difference in the plan versus Krugman is that it does it by attracting outside capital and reigniting trading in the assets. Krugman’s plan lays it all on the government’s shoulders to finance after triggering a very negative series of events. We saw this with Paulson at the helm. do we want to watch it again?

Paul, please take a bite of a reality sandwich. You can’t avoid markets so use them for our benefit. Obama, Geithner and equity investors get the joke. Why can’t you?

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/27/opinion/27krugman.html?_r=1&ref=opinion

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If Goldman Returns its TARP Funds, Will Others Follow?

March 24, 2009
2 Comments

Given that Wall Street functions largely as a “Land of Lemmings” where one idea, regardless how good or bad, is usually criticised and then copied if it is seen as potentially beneficial to either personal pecuniary interests or corporate revenue generation. Right now, many on Wall Street believe that repaying TARP money certainly addresses the first point and could serve the second (or give a competitor a leg up if not followed). The article attached goes into detail on many of the implications of possible paybacks. One that seems to be missing is details on how many of the banks can raise the capital quickly. One needs only look to a bank’s loan book for the answer. To the extent that a bank can find a way not to “roll” a large revolver, use a technical covenant default to reduce exposure, not reapply toxic loan sales to new credits or generally accellerate a cutback in corporate lending (because that’s where the large loans are and Congress is not focusing on corporate liquidity), it can free up capital for repaying the government. Unfortunately, the casualty of this is a major reduction in corporate credit just when we need to help corporations make it through the downturn with available loan capital. In no small way is this part of the “unintended consequences” we addressed in our earlier piece on Congress’ compensation legislation. Even if the bill does not become law, the simple passage by the House has put the fear of God into banks. The really bad news is that the Lemmings of Wall Street may march their corporate clients into the sea to rid themselves of the yoke of TARP!

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/24/business/24sorkin.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=if%20goldman%20returns%20aid,%20will%20others?&st=Search


Assessing Krugman’s Take on Toxic Asset Plan

March 23, 2009
2 Comments

Regardless whether one agrees or disagrees with Paul Krugman’s op ed in today’s New York Times, it is hard to disagree with his agrgument that the the plan is largely a subsidization of banks and/or a low risk option for investors. What he fails to point out is that, because of his points, that it is a huge subsidy, banks ought to rush to sell as much as they can of their toxic paper. Without the low interest rate, non-recourse government loan (means that the government can’t go after the new investors for any more than the underlying assets), the assets would almost certainly sell at lower price levels. Krugman argues that this is a failure to recognize the loss. He probably is correct but such recognition won’t get capital flowing or move the process forward. This government/private investor investment is effectively another capital injection into the banks. What Krugman also fails to note is that the subsidy should help facilitate trading in the aftermarket for these assets, if for no other reasons than the fact that there will be an auction to determine value. If nothing else, and maybe only for today, the market seems to like the plan. This evidenced by a huge rally led by the financial sector. I am sure that even Prof Krugman agrees that it is hard to ‘fight the tape”.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/23/opinion/23krugman.html?ref=opinion

http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/23/geithner-plan-arithmetic/”>


About author

Mr Thaler is currently the Managing Partner of Lieutenant Island Partners, an organization providing corporate finance advice and general consulting to corporations and not-for-profit organizations. Mr Thaler retired as Vice Chairman of Deutsche Bank Securities in early 2008. His background includes experience as an investment banker, senior manager, business builder, college professor, not for profit board chair and trustee. In his thirty plus years as an investment banker for Deutsche Bank and Lehman Brothers, he has been involved in numerous significant debt and equity financings, mergers & acquisitions, leverage buyouts, restructurings and cross border transactions. Of particular note, Mr Thaler has been one of the most active participants and strategic advisors to the homebuilding industry. In a period of significant turmoil and losses, he was one of the few active bankers to the industry who did not have either a loss or credit write down. He is currently advising several public builders on strategic matters and is an adjunct professor of finance at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. Though he lives in New York, he is a life long Red Sox fan! www.LieutenantIslandPartners.com

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