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Investors help banks regain balance

Allan Sloan is a senior editor-at-large at Fortune

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Scott Jagow: It looks like that "superfund" some of the big banks were planning might be dead. The plan was to raise a pool of money and buy up a lot of the bad investments the banks made in the mortgage market.

But last week, Citigroup moved $49 billion of those assets onto its balance sheet. Other banks have done the same thing. And they've raised money on their own. Citigroup got an investment from Abu Dhabi. UBS got one from the Singapore government.

This has put Allan Sloan in a pretty good mood. Allan, what's got you so cheery?

Allan Sloan: They're going out, hat in hand -- or whatever it is a corporation wears in hand -- and raising very expensive capital from people to the detriment of their existing shareholders, but it's a smart thing to do. And I started to add up the numbers and they're very impressive.

Jagow: Well, the numbers that I've seen -- UBS, $11.5 billion, Citigroup, $7.5 billion, Freddie Mac, $6 billion, all adding up to about $40 billion -- but aren't the losses going to be $300 billion or something like that?

Sloan: Right, or maybe $400 billion. They don't have to make up for all of their losses. What these institutions need to do is to have enough capital to buy time for things to work out and resume to normal, whatever that means. I mean, I'm not jumping up and down and saying happy days are here again, or anything like that. But one of the things I do for a living, Scott, is I'm a board contrarian. When everyone is pushing tech stocks, I say it's going to end. When everyone is pushing leveraged buyouts, I say it's going to end. And now, when the big product on Wall Street seems to be disaster and gloom and depression, I mean, that's going to end, too.

Jagow: And your basing your optimism on the fact that investors are willing to put their money back into these banks?

Sloan: I'm basing it on two things. One is that the banks are willing to recognize that they have a problem -- as they say, I guess, in the world of shrinks, the first stage to resolving a problem is recognizing that you have one. And the second thing is that they've gone out and raised the money, to the detriment of existing shareholders, because if you look at the structure of the Abu Dhabi deal with Citibank or the Singapore deal with UBS, I mean this is very expansive to the existing shareholders. But at least the existing shareholders have enough sense not to whine, because this way, the existing shareholders will own a piece of something instead of running the risk of having the institution disappear.

Jagow: Huh. Allan Sloan an optimist. I never thought I'd see the day. Thanks, Allan.

Sloan: You're welcome. And now you have.

Jagow: There's a first time for everything. In Los Angeles, I'm Scott Jagow. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

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