‘Bad Bank’ Funding
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration, filling in some of the blanks in its bank bailout, is considering creating multiple investment funds to purchase the bad loans and other distressed assets that lie at the heart of the financial crisis, according to people familiar with the matter.
The Obama team announced its intention to partner with the private sector to buy $500 billion to $1 trillion of distressed assets as part of its revamping of the $700 billion bank bailout last month. It’s central to the administration’s efforts to unglue credit markets, alongside a Federal Reserve program aimed at spurring consumer lending in areas such as credit cards and home loans that will be officially launched Tuesday.
No decision has been made on the final structure of what the administration is calling a private-public financing partnership, but one leading idea is to establish separate funds to be run by private investment managers. The managers would have to put up a certain amount of capital. Additional financing would come from the government, which would share in any profit or loss.
These private investment managers would run the funds, deciding which assets to buy and what prices to pay. The government would contribute money from the $700 billion bailout, with additional financing likely coming from the Federal Reserve and by selling government-backed debt. Other investors, such as pension funds, could also participate. To encourage participation, the government would try to minimize risk for private investors, possibly by offering non-recourse loans.
The public-private partnership grew out of the “bad bank” concept, an idea popular among some economists that would have required the government alone to buy up the troubled assets.
The Obama administration jettisoned that idea after running into the thorny issue of pricing. To help banks, the government must pay enough so that firms don’t have to suffer additional losses from selling or writing down the value of other similar assets. But there is little public tolerance for overpaying with taxpayer money.
Instead, the government wants to encourage private investors to buy up the assets in a way that would come closer to setting a market price where no market currently exists. Some within the administration believe establishing multiple funds could help with that goal. The funds would most likely target all types of assets, such as mortgage-backed securities, rather than focusing on one specific type of distressed security.
To me, this definitely sounds like a good start … investors buy up distressed mortgages from the banks at a deep discount, with some backing by the Fed; as homeowners continue to pay their mortgages (assuming, of course, that they do pay their mortgages), the investors will be able to re-sell the securities back to banks and other investors, and both the US government and the investors profit.
But of course, execution is everything … and when you look at some of the players now buying up the distressed assets, you have to wonder:
Fairly or not, Countrywide Financial and its top executives would be on most lists of those who share blame for the nation’s economic crisis. After all, the banking behemoth made risky loans to tens of thousands of Americans, helping set off a chain of events that has the economy staggering.
So it may come as a surprise that a dozen former top Countrywide executives now stand to make millions from the home mortgage mess.
Stanford L. Kurland, Countrywide’s former president, and his team have been buying up delinquent home mortgages that the government took over from other failed banks, sometimes for pennies on the dollar. They get a piece of what they can collect.
“It has been very successful — very strong,” John Lawrence, the company’s head of loan servicing, told Mr. Kurland one recent morning in a glass-walled boardroom here at PennyMac’s spacious headquarters, opened last year in the same Los Angeles suburb where Countrywide once flourished.
“In fact, it’s off-the-charts good,” he told Mr. Kurland, who was leaning back comfortably in his leather boardroom chair, even as the financial markets in New York were plunging.
Now while some say that Kurland is not responsible for mess at Countrywide, having left the company in 2006 before they started making the riskiest of loans; on the other hand, he is widely credited with pushing the company into making many of the early high-risk loans, although he says that under his watch the company only made loans to people who could afford to pay them.
Regardless, it is companies like the one that Mr. Kurland has founded that will help ease the crisis; regardless of whether one feels that it’s right or not for the very people who many people blame for causing the crisis to profit from its recovery.