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Marketplace Scratch Pad

Taxpayers to lose again?

Scott Jagow May 22, 2009

As you know, several banks are trying to get out from under the Treasury’s thumb by repaying their TARP money. In the process, it looks pretty likely that the banks will escape with more of your money. Consider this analysis from Bloomberg:

While 17 financial institutions have repaid TARP funds, only one has come to terms with the U.S. on the value of the rights to buy stock that taxpayers received for the risk of recapitalizing the industry. That was Old National Bancorp in Evansville, Indiana, which gave the Treasury Department $1.2 million for warrants that may have been worth $5.81 million, according to the data.

If Geithner makes the same deal for all companies in the rescue program, lenders may walk away with 80 percent of profits taxpayers might have claimed.

We’re talking about the stock warrants that taxpayers got in exchange for bailing out the banks. These warrants need to be appraised. Treasury Secretary Geithner said this week he wants to move quickly to sell the TARP warrants back to the banks. But if moving them fast means we’re selling them for cheap, then, Mr. Geithner, no thank you:

Because Old National was the first to repay TARP money and buy its rights back, the May 11 transaction “sets the price point for the whole program,” said Simon Johnson, a fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington…

“The point of the warrants is that taxpayers participate in the upside,” Johnson said in an interview. “It defeats the whole purpose if you’re going to sell them way below market price.”

Treasury Department spokesman Andrew Williams declined to comment on Old National.

“We’re doing our best to protect the taxpayers’ interest and make sure we get fair market value,” he said.

And the banks will do their best to make sure they get a great deal. Who do you think will win?

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