An Addendum on the Treasury's Plan to Buy Bank Assets-Becker
In my post on Sunday I gave an example to illustrate the Treasury's plan to buy the "toxic" assets of banks. Since I left a few quite important implications of the example unclear, this addendum will consider the same example in more detail.
Recall that the Plan would encourage hedge funds and other financial institutions to bid for bank assets. These institutions would only have to put up about 7% of their bid price since the Treasury will supply another 7%, and the FDIC will loan the remaining 86%. If assets appreciate in value over the bid price, the Treasury and funds share the profits equally after the FDIC is repaid. If the asset declines in value, funds are only liable for 7% of the decline, and the FDIC and Treasury absorb the rest.
In my example, there is a 10% chance that an asset will be worth $1000, and a 90% chance that it will be worthless, so that the full expected value of the asset is $100. Assuming competition among funds forces them to bid the expected value of this asset to them, how much will they bid? When the asset pays off $1000, a fund would get half the difference between $1000 and 86% of its bid price, while if the asset becomes worthless they would be compensated for everything but 7% of what they bid. The expected value of these outcomes is approximately $243, and that would be the price that competition forces hedge funds and other funds to pay for the assets. Since the expected value of the asset is only $100, government subsidies would encourage funds to bid about 2 1/2 times the true worth of the asset!
The government would pay the difference between the bid price and the worth of an asset, or $143 in this example. Contrary to many assertions made about the Treasury Plan, this subsidy does not on average go to successful bidders since the expected cost of the asset to them equals the expected value of the asset to them. Of course, the luckier buyers of these assets can make a lot of profits, and they could be subject to Congressional wrath that they profited at the government's expense. The $143 subsidy goes to banks, for they would receive almost 2 1/2 times the worth of their "toxic " assets.
Perhaps good reasons motivate the government to use this indirect way to subsidize banks rather than to give them the subsidy directly. However, it is a strange program indeed where banks get subsidized in proportion to how many "bad" assets they hold. This will make banks wish that they had made even greater mistakes, and held more assets that are likely to be truly worthless. However, these worthless assets could be worth a fortune to banks.