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Nationalize the banks VI

February 13th, 2009 · 3 Comments

We’ve argued for some time that the best way to deal with the financial crisis would be to nationalize at least some banks (you can read that here, here, and here). We’re hardly alone.. Even the guy that predicted all this mess years ago has seen the light (again)..

Before we show you that, first some good news. China has nationalized banks, and also a rather large stimulus policy in place already. Both seem to start delivering considerable pay-backs:

  • The value of new loans in January was more than double the record set a year earlier, according to figures released by the People’s Bank of China yesterday.
  • The lending multiplies the effect of the government’s spending in ways that wouldn’t be possible in the U.S. and Europe, where banks are burdened by toxic assets, said Dwyfor Evans, a strategist with State Street Global Markets in Hong Kong.
  • Growth will accelerate from the current pace to 7.2 percent for the full year, according to Wang Qian, an economist with JPMorgan Chase & Co. in Hong Kong. Her calculation is that consumption will contribute 4.4 percentage points and investment 4 percentage points. The collapse in exports will slice off 1.2 percentage points. Stimulus spending will contribute up to 3 percentage points of the total, she estimates.

Hmm, not bad..

Now, for Mr. Roubini, aka Dr. Doom. He even mentions the Swedish example of coping with a banking crisis, something we’ve also mentioned before.

Roubini: Nationalizing Banks Is the Best Way to Go

From The Business Insider, Feb. 12. 2009:

Nouriel Roubini lays out the four ways to fix insolvent banking systems. Then he explains why the first three–the ones we’re using–are lousy:

There are four basic approaches to a clean-up of a banking system that is facing a systemic crisis:

  1. Recapitalization together with  the purchase by a government “bad bank” of the toxic assets;
  2. Recapitalization together with government guarantees – after a first loss by the banks – of the toxic assets;
  3. Private purchase of toxic assets with a government guarantee and/or – semi-equivalently – provision of public capital to set up a public-private bad bank where private investors participate in the purchase of such assets (something similar to the US government plan presented by Tim Geithner today for a Public-Private Investment Fund);
  4. Outright government takeover (call it nationalization or “receivership” if you don’t like the dirty N-word) of insolvent banks to be cleaned after takeover and then resold to the private sector.

Of the four options the first three have serious flaws: in the bad bank model the government may overpay for the bad assets – at a high cost for the taxpayer – as the true value of them is uncertain; and if it does not overpay for the assets many banks are bust as the mark-to-market haircut they need to recognize is too large for them to bear.

Even in the guarantee (after first loss) model there are massive valuation problems and there can be very expensive risk for the tax-payer (an excessive guarantee that is not properly priced by the first loss of the bank, the fees paid and the value of equity that that the government receives for the guarantee) as the true value of the assets is as uncertain as in the purchase of bas assets model.

The shady guarantee deals recently done with Citi and Bank of America were even less transparent than an outright government purchase of bad asset as the bad asset purchase model at least has the advantage of transparency of the price paid for toxic assets.

In the bad bank model the government has the additional problem of having to manage all the bad assets it purchased, something that the government does not have much expertise in.  At least in the guarantee model the assets stay with the banks and the banks know better how to manage and have a greater incentive than the government to eventually work out such bad assets…

Thus all the schemes that have been so far proposed to deal with the toxic assets of the banks may be a big fudge that either does not work or works only if the government bails out shareholders and unsecured creditors of the banks.

So much for all the plans put forth so far, including Tim Geithner’s latest brainstorm.  Now on to the solution.

Note that Nouriel is not recommending the alternative that Geithner and Summers always invoke when someone suggests this route: permanent government ownership and operation of the banks. We all agree that would be a disaster.  What Nouriel is talking about is temporary receivership and restructuring.

Thus, paradoxically nationalization may be a more market friendly solution of a banking crisis: it creates the biggest hit for common and preferred shareholders of clearly insolvent institutions and – most certainly – even the unsecured creditors in case the bank insolvency hole is too large; it provides a fair upside to the tax-payer.

It can also resolve the problem of avoiding having the government manage the bad assets: if you selling back all of the assets and deposits of the bank to new private shareholders after a clean-up of the bank together with a partial government guarantee of the bad assets (as it was done in the resolution of the Indy Mac bank failure) you avoid having the government managing the bad assets.

Alternatively, if the bad assets are kept by the government after a takeover of the banks and only the good ones are sold back in a re-privatization scheme, the government could outsource the job of managing and working out such assets to private asset managers if it does not want to create its own RTC bank to work out such bad assets.

Nationalization also resolves the too-big-too-fail problem of banks that are systemically important and that thus need to be rescued by the government at a high cost to the taxpayer. This too-big-to-fail problem has now become an even-bigger-to-fail problem as the current approach has lead weak banks to take over even weaker banks. Merging two zombie banks is like have two drunks trying to help each other to stand up.

The JPMorgan takeover of insolvent Bear Stearns and WaMu; the Bank of America takeover of insolvent Countrywide and Merrill Lynch; and the Wells Fargo takeover of insolvent Wachovia show that the too-big-to-fail monster has become even bigger. In the Wachovia case you had two wounded institutions (Citi and Wells Fargo) bidding for a zombie insolvent one. Why?

Because they both knew that becoming even bigger-to-fail was the right strategy to extract an even larger bailout from the government. Instead, with nationalization approach the government can break-up these financial supermarket monstrosities into smaller pieces to be sold to private investors as smaller good banks.

This “nationalization” approach was the one successfully taken by Sweden while the current US and UK approach may end up looking like the zombie banks of Japan that were never properly restructured and ended up perpetuating the credit crunch and credit freeze. Japan ended up having a decade long near-depression because of its failure to clean up the banks and the bad debts.

The US, the UK and other economies risk a similar near depression and stag-deflation (multi-year recession and price deflation) if they fail to appropriately tackle this most severe banking crisis.

Tags: Credit Crisis · Public Policy

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 ron cobb // Feb 14, 2009 at 12:46 am

    For the counter argument to Swedish style bank nationalization I offer the link below!
    http://bigthink.com/topics/business-and-economics/ideas/prof-paul-krugman-bank-nationalization-never

  • 2 admin // Feb 14, 2009 at 6:47 am

    We had a look at that link, Ron, and the argument seems to boil down to saying that since we’re now in a world recession, and the US reserve position is so bad.

    We have some problem to see why that would make (temporary) nationalization more difficult. The argument seems to be that it would be too expensive, but you know what really would be expensive? Do nothing. The economy will fall off a cliff and the deficit will follow.

    Any bank rescue plan will be expensive and this is hardly relevant right now, to be honest. Banks need to be fixed whatever it costs, because without it, there will be no economic recovery. And that, ultimately, will be much more expensive than any rescue or stimulus plan..

  • 3 Temporary bank nationalizations, here’s another reason why — shareholdersunite.com // Mar 22, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    […] there is plenty of evidence (see the Swedish experience of the early […]