Remember that huge congressional swing-out two months ago over the Treasury's request for $700 billion to purchase at auction a bunch of toxic assets that no one wanted to buy? And remember John McCain's curious behavior, temporarily shutting down his campaign in order to fly to Washington and save the nation from financial collapse? (Some say that episode sunk Big Mac's campaign.)
Well today, Treasury man Paulson announced that there probably won't be any toxic asset purchases after all. Instead, he intends to forge ahead with more capital purchases to strengthen bank balance sheets and also, by the way, non-banks, which lend roughly 40 percent of total consumer credit. Think AMEX, GE Capital, maybe GMAC, and others.
Actually, Paulson has a good idea for a private capital injection into banks (and maybe non-bank lenders) that would then be matched by taxpayer capital. This was a good idea proposed a while back by Harvard economist and former Bush advisor Greg Mankiw. The more private capital the less the government-takeover threat and the healthier the banks will be.
But there's more from Paulson today. He talked at some length about Treasury assistance for securitized credit-card student-loan and auto-loan assets, and he said the Fed is designing a lending facility to meet liquidity needs for asset-backed securities and their sponsors. This securitized-loan business is a whole new avenue of rescue operations. And it surely opens the door to a lot of non-banks that are going to play in the Treasury's sandbox.
Mr. Paulson also said the Treasury is looking at FDIC chair Sheila Bair's multi-billion dollar loan-guarantee program for foreclosure mitigation. This really means Uncle Sam will wind up eating some significant losses while the interest and principal on shaky mortgage loans are written down.
Stocks were off big today — before, during, and after Paulson — closing down over 400. Tough to pin it on the Treasury man, however, since the plunge started in the early-morning well before he spoke.
Some folks think the stock market is stalking Obama, whose defining moment may be a GM bailout. Plus, investors are waiting for a new Treasury appointee who will shed light on Obama's tax and trade threats for 2009 as well as his UAW rescue mission that is so strongly favored by Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Policies protecting ailing industries would certainly set a France-like tone for the new administration.
Here's a stat from my friend, blogger Mark Perry: Total compensation per hour for the big-three carmakers is $73.20. That's a 52 percent differential from Toyota's (Detroit South) $48 compensation (wages + health and retirement benefits). In fact, the oversized UAW-driven pay package for Detroit is 132 percent higher than that of the entire manufacturing sector of the U.S., which comes in at $31.59.
I don't care how much money Congress throws at GM. With that kind of oversized comp-package they are not gonna be competitive. It's throwin' bad money after a bad cause. What a way to start the new Obama era.
I would still argue that rescuing banks and consumer credit companies removes systemic risk from our lending system. But the only thing systemic about the GM bailout is the hegemony of the UAW. Or maybe I should be more cynical: Republican socialism followed by more Democratic socialism.