Saturday, September 20, 2008

Reich and Krugman: No Deal

I don't know nothin' bout economics, but I do know that Paul and Robert do... Krugman and Reich have looked at "the bailout of bailouts" and they're not impressed.

It's not likely to do all that much good because no one knows how much bad debt there is out there. Even if the government bought a lot of it, investors and lenders still couldn't be sure how much remained. After all, big banks have already written down hundreds of billions of bad debts, and that hasn't restored confidence in the Street. [ Link ]

If everything goes extremely well, markets move upward, and the risky loans become far less risky, it's possible that taxpayers (that is, the Treasury) might actually make money. But if the bottom falls out, American taxpayers could be on the hook for trillions of dollars. What then? The federal debt soars. What then? Interest rates go out of sight. What then? Foreigners lend us less money. What then? We're cooked. [ Link ]

So, here’s my problem: what we have now are a bunch of financial institutions in trouble, because they’re highly leveraged, and have mortgage-related assets on their books. And they can’t raise cash because nobody wants to buy those assets. The Paulson plan will in effect create a market for toxic paper, thereby supposedly unfreezing the markets.

But what if the institutions are fundamentally broke, even if the liquidity squeeze is relieved? [ Link ]

The Treasury plan ... looks like an attempt to restore confidence in the financial system — that is, convince creditors of troubled institutions that everything’s OK — simply by buying assets off these institutions. This will only work if the prices Treasury pays are much higher than current market prices; that, in turn, can only be true either if this is mainly a liquidity problem — which seems doubtful — or if Treasury is going to be paying a huge premium, in effect throwing taxpayers’ money at the financial world. [ Link ]

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