Soros on the Big Shit Storm: Help the homeowners first
George Soros in The Financial Times:
The hard choice facing the Obama administration is between partially nationalising the banks, or leaving them in private hands but nationalising their toxic assets. Choosing the first course would inflict great pain on a broad segment of the population – not only on bank shareholders but also on the beneficiaries of pension funds. However, it would clear the air and restart the economy.
The latter course would avoid recognising and coming to terms with the painful economic realities, but it would put the banking system into the same quandary that proved the undoing of the government sponsored enterprises (GSEs) – Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The public interest would dictate that the banks should resume lending on attractive terms. However, this lending would have to be enforced by government diktat because the self-interest of the banks would lead them to focus on preserving and rebuilding their own equity.
Political realities are pushing the Obama administration towards the latter course. It cannot go to Congress and ask for the authorisation to spend an additional $1,000bn on recapitalising the banks because Mr Paulson has poisoned the well in the way he demanded and then spent the money for Tarp. Even the second tranche of Tarp – the remaining $350bn – could only be pried loose by a congressional manoeuvre. That is what is leading the Obama administration to contemplate reserving up to $100bn of that tranche for the “aggregator bank” solution.
The stock market is pressing for an early decision by putting pressure on financial stocks. But the new team should avoid repeating the mistakes of the previous one and announcing a programme before it has been thoroughly thought out. The choice between the two courses is momentous; once made, it will become irreversible. It should be based on a careful evaluation of the alternatives.
President Barack Obama can fulfil his promise of a bold new approach only by establishing a discontinuity with the previous team. Congress and the public are right in feeling that too much has been done for the banks and not enough for beleaguered householders. The government ought to take the GSEs out of limbo and use them more actively to stabilise the housing market. Having done so, it could go back to Congress for authorisation to recapitalise the banking system the right way.
Probably HOLC's not on the table exactly because it would work. One thing the banks are terrified of is anybody finding out how big the Big Shit Pile really is. HOLC, by cleaning the balance sheets of the banks, and reducing houselhold debt to manageable levels, would do exactly that.
NOTE Via Naked Capitalism.