Oops …

Well, what do you know?  The US government is (almost certainly) going to buy troubled assets after all, starting with those of Citigroup.  CalculatedRisk has been on top of it [1,2,3,4].  The last of those links contains the joint statement by the Treasury, Federal Reserve and FDIC:

As part of the agreement, Treasury and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation will provide protection against the possibility of unusually large losses on an asset pool of approximately $306 billion of loans and securities backed by residential and commercial real estate and other such assets, which will remain on Citigroup’s balance sheet. As a fee for this arrangement, Citigroup will issue preferred shares to the Treasury and FDIC. In addition and if necessary, the Federal Reserve stands ready to backstop residual risk in the asset pool through a non-recourse loan.

In addition, Treasury will invest $20 billion in Citigroup from the Troubled Asset Relief Program in exchange for preferred stock with an 8% dividend to the Treasury. Citigroup will comply with enhanced executive compensation restrictions and implement the FDIC’s mortgage modification program.

Here is a summary of the terms of the deal, with a fraction more detail:

Size: Up to $306 bn in assets to be guaranteed (based on valuation agreed upon between institution and USG).

Deductible: Institution absorbs all losses in portfolio up to $29 bn (in addition to existing reserves) Any losses in portfolio in excess of that amount are shared USG (90%) and institution (10%).

USG share will be allocated as follows:
UST (via TARP) second loss up to $5 bn;
FDIC takes the third loss up to $10 bn;

Financing: Federal Reserve funds remaining pool of assets with a non-recourse loan, subject to the institution’s 10% loss sharing, at a floating rate of OIS plus 300bp. Interest payments are with recourse to the institution.

A couple of points:

  • The US government isn’t immediately buying US$306 billion of crappy assets.  It’s guaranteeing that the value of them won’t fall too much further.  If they do, then they’ll buy ’em.  It will be interesting to see how much of this guarantee is actually called into force.
  • Notice that only US$20 billion is attributable to TARP, while the rest is entirely new.  That is presumably to make sure that the US government can continue to stand by it’s recent promise to not ask for congressional approval for the last US$350 billion available under that program.  On the other hand, I suppose it’s also likely that they want to keep the TARP money for direct capital infusions; that is, for actual money spent now rather than taking on risk.
  • To put the US$20 billion of new money into perspective, Citigroup’s market capitalisation as of Friday was US$20.5 billion.
  • It’s that “on valuation agreed upon between institution and USG” that troubles me.  Part of the reasoning given for TARP in the first place was for “price discovery” (through reverse auctions).  There was plenty of criticism of that policy, but the goal of discovering the true value of all of these assets is a noble one.  This bailout of Citi will now involve private negotiation between Citigroup and the US government to determine their value for the purposes of the guarantee.  That’s a bloody awful way to do it.