Tuesday, November 29, 2011

$700 Billion TARP Bailout? Not Even Close….

   … as Hunter at Daily Kos points out. Let’s try trillions instead.

Fed commitments to financial sector topped $7 trillion      Mon Nov 28, 2011

Bloomberg News sorts through how the Fed handled the banking crisis. It isn't pretty:

The amount of money the central bank parceled out was surprising even to Gary H. Stern, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis from 1985 to 2009, who says he “wasn’t aware of the magnitude.” It dwarfed the Treasury Department’s better-known $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. Add up guarantees and lending limits, and the Fed had committed $7.77 trillion as of March 2009 to rescuing the financial system, more than half the value of everything produced in the U.S. that year.

“TARP at least had some strings attached,” says Brad Miller, a North Carolina Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, referring to the program’s executive-pay ceiling. “With the Fed programs, there was nothing.”

One of the underlying themes of the article is that almost nobody contacted for the story, whether in government or in the large banks, was willing to comment on it. And during the debates over both TARP and bank regulation, the scale of secret government assistance to the largest banks was unknown even to Congress:

Lawmakers knew none of this.

They had no clue that one bank, New York-based Morgan Stanley (MS), took $107 billion in Fed loans in September 2008, enough to pay off one-tenth of the country’s delinquent mortgages. The firm’s peak borrowing occurred the same day Congress rejected the proposed TARP bill, triggering the biggest point drop ever in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. (INDU) The bill later passed, and Morgan Stanley got $10 billion of TARP funds, though Paulson said only “healthy institutions” were eligible. [...]

Byron L. Dorgan, a former Democratic senator from North Dakota, says the knowledge might have helped pass legislation to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act, which for most of the last century separated customer deposits from the riskier practices of investment banking.

“Had people known about the hundreds of billions in loans to the biggest financial institutions, they would have demanded Congress take much more courageous actions to stop the practices that caused this near financial collapse,” says Dorgan, who retired in January.

Now that the information is coming out, will that make a difference in future discussions over regulating too-big-to-fail banks? Color me skeptical. Lawmakers might grumble a long while about the Fed committing the United States to seven freaking trillion dollars in loans and guarantees to the financial industry, but government is still quite thoroughly captured by the top banks:

At the meeting with [Sen. Ted] Kaufman, [Treasury Secretary Timothy] Geithner argued that the issue of limiting bank size was too complex for Congress and that people who know the markets should handle these decisions, Kaufman says. According to Kaufman, Geithner said he preferred that bank supervisors from around the world, meeting in Basel, Switzerland, make rules increasing the amount of money banks need to hold in reserve. Passing laws in the U.S. would undercut his efforts in Basel, Geithner said, according to Kaufman.