TARP payback raises more questions
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Kai Ryssdal: Recall though that back in October then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson met with the CEOs of nine of this country’s biggest banks. He told them in no uncertain terms that they had to take the TARP money to save the whole financial system. So they did. Only to learn later that the money came with strings attached.
So the race has been on to give that bailout back. Today 10 big banks got permission to do that. Almost two dozen smaller ones have already. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who was in the room with Paulson and the CEO’s back in October, today called those repayments an encouraging sign of financial repair. Our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale reports.
JOHN DIMSDALE: Over the past seven months, the 10 banks paid the government nearly $2 billion in dividends and interest to borrow Treasury’s money. President Barack Obama says that means so far the Troubled Asset Relief Program is turning a profit.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: We’re restoring funds to the Treasury where they’ll be available to safeguard against continuing risks to financial stability.
But William Isaac at the financial consulting firm LECG Global says the banks that are returning the TARP money never needed it, and it didn’t do them any good.
WILLIAM ISAAC: Except cause them a lot of consternation. And to be dragged through public stress tests and be criticized for sponsoring golf tournaments that they’ve sponsored for years and other such things. It really has been a lot more harmful for those banks than helpful.
The banks that got permission to payback the bailout performed well on those government-run stress tests. But the Congressional overseer of the bailout, Elizabeth Warren, today questioned whether the stress tests were stressful enough. For example, she said, the tests assumed an 8.9-percent unemployment rate. And last month, unemployment was 9.4 percent.
ELIZABETH WARREN: This is a real concern. That the worst case scenario right here in 2009 is in fact not the worst case. We’re going to see worse numbers than that.
At a separate Congressional hearing, Treasury Secretary Geithner said the tests imposed other, more rigorous standards, similar to conditions during the Great Depression. He said the tests, and the TARP money helped improve consumer confidence in banks.
In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.
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