The Obama administration’s plan to remove distressed assets from bank balance sheets may take three months to begin operating, risking further deterioration in the value of the securities and driving up rescue costs.
By James Sterngold
No matter how well the plan is designed, delays could mean that prices for mortgage-related assets will drop, requiring banks to take bigger writedowns and seek additional capital from the government, said Christopher Whalen, senior vice president and managing director of Torrance, California-based Institutional Risk Analytics.
“The government has said it thinks the assets are worth more than the 30 cents they could get in the market now — that it’s 80 cents or 50 cents on the dollar,” Whalen said. “But that 30 cents is going to look good in three months. Loss rates aren’t going to peak until late this year, when those assets will be going for five cents or 10 cents on the dollar. Absolutely they should move faster.”
The three-part government plan, announced March 23 by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, requires a two-week comment period for one program, an application process for asset managers, analysis of the troubled mortgage assets to be sold and assessments of how much debt investors can take on.
As a result, the programs might not be operating before June or July, said Curtis Arledge, a managing director at New York-based BlackRock Inc., which plans to apply to become one of the asset managers for the public-private partnerships.
Falling Asset Prices
Two government officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because no announcements on timing have been made, confirmed that the program won’t be operating until the summer. Once launched, it will create public-private partnerships to purchase as much as $500 billion of bad debts and securities from banks. The aim, Geithner said, is to allow the banks to clean up their balance sheets, attract private capital and resume active lending.
“The longer it takes, the more likely it won’t do the job,” said Robert Barbera, chief economist at New York brokerage ITG Inc., who supports the program because he believes that cheap government financing for the asset purchases will lift prices. “This allows the squeeze on the real economy to continue. The longer credit is not available from the banks, the greater the drag on the economy, and asset prices drop further.”