Now that both sides of the U.S. House of Representatives cannot agree on Hank Paulson's $700 billion TARP package, the need for an alternative idea is clear. One of the ideas I have heard sounds pretty interesting to me.
Essentially, rather than buying $700 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities, the plan would be to have the government issue insurance on them and guarantee the holders against realized losses. How is this any better than the current plan? From what I can tell, in at least two ways.
First, it would cost far less to insure mortgages than it would to buy them outright, so the taxpayer would save money versus the current plan. Many people believe the current prices these bonds are fetching (if trades occur at all) are not reasonably reflecting the ultimate losses from the mortgages underlying the securities. If that is true, the losses that the U.S. would insure against would be far less than the current marks on these mortgages are predicting.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, if we woke up tomorrow and these mortgages were insured by the U.S. government, there is a very good chance that demand for them would increase significantly. All of the sudden a market for these securities would not only exist (essentially one does not now), but prices would likely rise and the banks could reverse some of their mark-to-market losses and write-up the value of their assets. With more clarity on the value of these assets, even more capital raising would occur in the banking sector.
So, what do you think? Would such an idea convert some of the naysayers of the current plan?
I am also a little confused. How will removing the mark-to-market accounting rule, an idea that is rapidly gaining traction, help solve the problem? If balance sheets are not prepared with market prices, it will allow companies to arbitrarily assign a price to the illiquid assets it holds. What kind of price are they going to select? Obviously, a high one!
To me, this will just lend less credibility to bank balance sheets because investors will assume the banks are choosing artificially high prices for the assets they get to assign values to. Will sovereign wealth funds, private equity funds, and hedge funds all of the sudden start to offer new capital injections into firms that are doing this? I highly doubt it.
One reason why WaMu, Wachovia, and Lehman Brothers went under was because nobody trusted their balance sheets enough to invest in them. Marking up those toxic assets arbitrarily would hardly result in more confidence than there is today.
Disclosure: No position in any of the companies mentioned at the time of writing