Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mathematics Of The Scam


Let’s flesh this out by repeating it 100 times. So say a bank has 100 of these $100 loan pools. And just by way of example, suppose half of them are actually worth $100 and half of them are actually worth zero, and nobody knows which are which. (These numbers are made up but the principle is sound. Nobody knows what the assets are really worth because it depends on future events, like who actually defaults on their mortgages.)

Thus, on average the pools are worth $50 each and the true value of all 100 pools is $5000.

The FDIC provides 6:1 leverage to purchase each pool, and some investor (e.g., a private equity firm) takes them up on it, bidding $84 apiece. Between the FDIC leverage and the Treasury matching funds, the private equity firm thus offers $8400 for all 100 pools but only puts in $600 of its own money.

Half of the pools wind up worthless, so the investor loses $300 total on those. But the other half wind up worth $100 each for a $16 profit. $16 times 50 pools equals $800 total profit which is split 1:1 with the Treasury. So the investor gains $400 on these winning pools. A $400 gain plus a $300 loss equals a $100 net gain, so the investor risked $600 to make $100, a tidy 16.7% return.

The bank unloaded assets worth $5000 for $8400. So the private investor gained $100, the Treasury gained $100, and the bank gained $3400. Somebody must therefore have lost $3600…

…and that would be the FDIC, who was so foolish as to offer 6:1 leverage to purchase assets with a 50% chance of being worthless. But no worries. As long as the FDIC has more expertise in evaluating the risk of toxic assets than the entire private equity and banking worlds combined, there is no way they could be taken to the cleaners like this. What could possibly go wrong?

Oh, and incidentally, now that the bank has a "cleaner" balance sheet, its stock can then go up by a factor of five or ten, further wiping out any "losses" taken by private finance. So it's win-win for everybody!

The Geithner plan, if implemented in any honest way, would result in exactly the price discovery that the banks have been seeking to avoid, price discovery which would reveal insolvency. Therefore, the bottom line is this: If the plan is honest, it cannot work. If the plan works, it cannot have been honest.

No comments: