Bailout funds aimed at regular investors

Money

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: We've told you the government's trying to entice private capital in to help buy up those troubled assets that are at root of the financial crisis. And that has been understood so far to be people, or really institutions with tens of billions of dollars to play around with.

But there is word today the little guy might also get a chance to share in the profits -- if there are any. The New York Times is reporting the White House wants investment firms to create special bailout mutual funds aimed at ordinary investors. We sent Joel Rose out to see who might be interested.


JOEL ROSE: In theory, these funds could give small investors a chance to get the same kind of deal the big guys are getting: taxpayers cover much of the risk, while investors get to keep most of the profits, if there are any. Sounds like a good idea to paralegal John Coogan, who was eating lunch today at a park in downtown Philadelphia.

JOHN Coogan: Normal mutual funds aren't insured. So to be reimbursed 85 percent rather than zero percent if you lose money, it seems like a good deal to me.

Rose: But most mutual funds aren't made out of completely toxic assets.

Coogan: That's true, that's true. So I guess it would be a gamble. I guess you'd be trading that risk.

If the plan is risky for investors, it's also a roll of the dice for the Obama administration. The White House may be trying to counter the perception that its bailout programs are only aimed at helping Wall Street, not Main Street. But some say the proposed investment bailout funds could backfire.

RADAME Rodriguez: I think people may buy into it. I'm skeptical of whether or not it would work.

Radame Rodriguez works for Comcast. He says private investors could still wind up losing money on the troubled mortgage securities.

Rodriguez: What are they worth? And what are they going to be worth? Are you putting your money in a black hole, or is it gonna be something that's going to have some return on investment?

That's a question even the most expert investors have had trouble answering. And it gives attorney Frank Rothermel pause.

FRANK Rothermel: If you have sophisticated hedge funds that actually haven't lost all their money that are unwilling to do that deal, my god, why would any private little guy do that?

Bailout investment funds could be on the market within months. But that doesn't guarantee they'll find many takers.

In Philadelphia, I'm Joel Rose for Marketplace.

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