Monday, October 13, 2008

Financial Crisis Primer, Part II

In my previous article, "Financial Crisis Primer," I gave a very brief explanation of why there is a financial crisis in the first place.

What I failed to mention, was a solution. While I would love to take credit, I didn't come up with this, and sadly I don't remember the name of the guest on CNBC who mentioned it.

What the Treasury should do, and it appears as though they will, is ask the banks what they need in terms of recapitalization. For example, Neel Kashkari (Cash-Carry, right? Love it) pictured above, calls Citi and asks how much they need to cover existing losses on mortgages, as well as capital necessary for lending. Citi responds with a number like $15 billion (twice what they got from Abu Dhabi Investment Authority). The government in turn, gets $15 billion in prefered stock, warrants, and other financial instruments of value.

I think this is a good model. It is very similar to what Warren Buffett did with Goldman Sachs. Goldman needed some quick cash and Warren put down a cool $5 billion. In exchange, (from MSNBC):

"(Buffett got)...$5 billion worth of perpetual preferred stock getting a 10% dividend and warrants to buy $5 billion of common stock with a strike price of $115 a share. He'll be able to exercise the warrants at any time over five years."

Imagine if the Treasury could spend $120 billion, $15 billion over 8 banks, and voila, much of the financial crisis is solved. The banks get fresh capital and the US taxpayer gets a profitable investment. Unfortunately for the existing shareholder, the infusion will dillute existing shares. Oh well, caveat emptor.

In the end, I think Bernake and Paulson are trying to shorten the duration of this mess by offering US taxpayer money to purchase the worst of the worst assets as well as providing plenty of cash at the Federal Reserve Discount Window.

Many argue that the government shouldn't be spreading around taxpayer dollars. While I agree in principle, the overall market for money indicates that banks are hoarding cash and investors are fleeing for quality. For the global financial system to function smoothly, capital has to get moving again, and I think that is the plan.

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