Monday, December 14, 2009

Why are banks so desperate to get out of TARP?

Talk about ingratitude! News that two of the country's largest banks have agreed to raise billions of dollars from investors to pay back bailout loans from U.S. taxpayers seems preposterous on its face and even worse after a little thought. Citigroup has reached a deal with federal regulators to repay $20 billion, after the government sells its $25 billion stake in company stock, according to Cable News Network (CNN), and the government has agreed to a $25 billion repayment in full from Wells Fargo Bank, according to the Reuters international news service. The two banks are the largest still in the Troubled Asset Relief Program, set up by the United States to prop up the ailing U.S. financial system in 2008, and are trying to get out of the stricter regulation required of institutions that accepted taxpayer financing. The announcement coincides with meetings between U.S. President Barack Obama and bank CEOs in Washington, D.C., to discuss the future of the financial system. While it's certainly a good sign that banks are able to repay their government loans, releasing them from regulatory obligations seems counterproductive. Citigroup, for example, is expected to report a $1.1 billion loss in the fourth quarter of 2009. Maybe regulators can explain how a bank losing money can afford to pay a $20 billion bill? Wells Fargo was in much better shape than Citigroup when the financial system tanked, needed less borrowing and agreed to fewer restrictions, Reuters said. Wells Fargo plans to raise most of the money by selling additional stock, Reuters said. The Citigroup deal is more complicated, and involves the issuance of billions of shares of Citigroup common stock, now selling around $3 a share, and the sale of new securities. That's great if the instruments sell, and if the bank can afford the additional burdens. But Citigroup is losing money. What it looks like is that these institutions are desperate to get out of government-imposed restrictions on how much they can pay their top executives. Isn't that the same kind of bad management and poor accounting that got these companies into trouble in the first place?

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