Update: FNM, FRE, and AIG Bailed Out?! WTF?!

Naked Capitalism says it extremely well, describing Paulson’s plan as “a financial coup d’etat”:

there is simply huge amounts of cash ready to bottom fish in housing-related assets (we saw an estimate of $400 billion a couple of months ago). The issue is not lack of willing buyers; it's that the prospective sellers are not willing to accept prices that reflect the weak and deteriorating prospects for housing. ...this [Paulson's] program is going to swing into action with the clear but not honestly disclosed intent of buying assets at above market prices when future markets and the analysts with the best track records on forecasting this decline...believe it has considerably further to fall. ...The US needs to wean itself of unsustainable overconsumption, and since consumption has come to depend on growth in indebtedness, a reversal, however painful, is necessary. Our excesses have been so great that there is no way out of this that does not lead to a general fall in living standards...Thus, a sharp contraction in lending seems inevitable; the trick is to prevent it from crossing the tipping point into a vicious, accelerating downward spiral. But regardless, there has been broad agreement that private capital will not enter the mortgage/housing market until investors have confidence that a bottom is nigh. The Treasury program, by quite deliberately propping up asset prices, will delay finding a market clearing level and thus attenuate the financial crisis.

AlterNet had a more cynical perspective, but said the following, highlighting Henry Paulson’s connections to Wall Street:

Contrary to what the Bush administration says, it is not the case that banks' troubled mortgage assets cannot be sold in the private market. Those are the so-called "Level III" assets that banks say they cannot value. But that is only a dodge that the banks use to postpone taking losses. ...Investment banks typically hold about $30 of securities for every $1 of capital, so a 3% write-down would leave them insolvent. Lehman Brothers classified 14% of its assets as Level III at the end of the first quarter; Goldman Sachs was at 13%. Why is Lehman bankrupt, and Goldman Sachs still in business? If Secretary Paulson, the former head of Goldman Sachs, had not proposed a general bailout last week, we might already have had the answer to that question. ...For the Paulson bailout to be helpful to the banks, it must buy their securities at much higher prices than the private market is willing to pay. Otherwise it makes no sense at all, for the banks could sell at any moment to the hedge funds. But that is a subsidy to private banks, administered at the whim of the Treasury Secretary, without oversight and without the possibility of legal recourse.

Tags: Economics, Politics

Updated at: 24 September 2008 12:09 AM

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