The Citigroup Bailout

It’s bailout time. Let’s start with Paul Kedrosky:

Good Bank, Bad Bank, and F—ed Bank: Apparently Citibank and the U.S. government (i.e., we taxpayers) have reached a deal whereby we will backstop something like $300-billion in screwed assets on Citi’s balance sheet. … Here is the gist:

  • Citi will carve out $300-billion in troubled assets, which will remain on its balance sheet
    • The first $37-$40-billion in losses on those assets will go to Citi
    • The next $5-billion in losses will hit Treasury
    • The next $10-billion in losses will go to the FDIC
    • Any more losses will go to the Fed
  • There will be no management changes at Citi, because, you know, they are all fine and upstanding people who have done nothing wrong
  • There will be some compensation limitations, but those have not yet been made clear

To be clear, this is not a “bad bank” model. Assets are not, apparently, being taken off the Citi balance sheet and put into another entity walled off from the Citi biological host. Instead, they are being left on the Citi balance sheet, but tagged and bagged for eventual disposal via taxpayers. …

I’ll have more when there is more, and I know the equity futures markets like it — it’s admittedly less terrifying that letting Citi fail — but so far I’m not impressed. …

Yves Smith:

WSJ: US Agrees to Bail Out Citi (Updated):  …Note key element of the deal is that the Federal government will guarantee $300 billion of Citi assets, a much bigger number than had been leaked earlier, with a rather convoluted loss-sharing arrangement, but the bottom line is that Citi is at risk for at most $40 billion. Citi also gets a $20 billion equity injection, on slightly more onerous terms than the initial TARP investments, but still more favorable than Warren Buffett’s investment in Goldman. Oh, and it appears there will be NO management changes.

I do not see how GM can be denied a rescue now (not that that outcome is really in doubt, merely how much pain will be inflicted on management and the UAW). …

Update 12:50 AM: Bloomberg’s story puts the bad asset program slightly higher, at $306 billion. …

Calculated Risk has the Joint Statement by Treasury, Federal Reserve, and the FDIC on Citigroup, while James Kwak says the bailout is “Weak, Arbitrary, Incomprehensible.” I think he has it right:

Citigroup Bailout: Weak, Arbitrary, Incomprehensible: According to the Wall Street Journal, the deal is done. Here are the terms. In short: (a) Citi gets another $27 billion on the same terms as the first $25 billion, except that the interest rate is now 8% instead of 5%, and there is a cap on dividends of $0.01 per share per quarter; and (b) the government (Treasury, FDIC, Fed) agrees to absorb 90% of losses above $29 billion on a $306 billion slice of Citi’s assets, made up of residential and commercial mortgage-backed securities. (If triggered, some of that guarantee will be provided as a loan from the Fed.) There is also a warrant to buy up to $2.7 billion worth of common stock (I presume) at a staggeringly silly price of $10.61 per share (Citi closed at $3.77 on Friday).

The government (should have) had two goals for this bailout. First, since everyone assumes Citi is too big to fail, the bailout had to be big enough that it would settle the matter once and for all. Second, it had to define a standard set of terms that other banks could rely on and, more importantly, the market could rely on being there for other banks. This plan fails on both counts.

The arithmetic on this deal doesn’t seem to work for me (feel free to help me out). Citi has over $2 trillion in assets and several hundred billions of dollars in off-balance sheet liabilities. $27 billion is a drop in the bucket. Friedman Billings Ramsey last week estimated that Citi needed $160 billion in new capital. (I’m not sure I agree with the exact number, but that’s the ballpark.) Yes, there is a guarantee on $306 billion in assets (which will not get triggered until that $27 billion is wiped out), but that leaves another $2 trillion in other assets, many of which are not looking particularly healthy. If I’m an investor, I’m thinking that Citi is going to have to come back again for more money.

In addition, the plan is arbitrary and cannot possibly set an expectation for future deals. In particular, by saying that the government will back some of Citi’s assets but not others, it doesn’t even establish a principle that can be followed in future bailouts. In effect, the message to the market was and has been: “We will protect some (unnamed) large banks from failing, but we won’t tell you how and we’ll decide at the last minute.)” As long as that’s the message, investors will continue to worry about all U.S. banks.

The third goal should have been getting a good deal for the U.S. taxpayer, but instead Citi got the same generous terms as the original recapitalization. 8% is still less than the 10% Buffett got from Goldman; a cap on dividends is a nice touch but shouldn’t affect the value of equity any. By refusing to ask for convertible shares, the government achieved its goal of not diluting shareholders and limiting its influence over the bank. And an exercise price of $10.61 for the warrants? It is justified as the average closing price for the preceding 20 days, but basically that amounts to substituting what people really would like to believe the stock is worth for what it really is worth ($3.77).

How does this kind of thing happen? A weekend is really just not that much time to work out a deal. Maybe next time Treasury and the Fed should have a plan before going into the weekend?

What, and ruin a perfect record? Robert Reich:

Citigroup Scores: If you had any doubt at all about the primacy of Wall Street over Main Street; the utter lack of transparency behind the biggest government giveaway in history to financial executives, and their shareholders, directors, and creditors; and the intimate connections the lie between Administrations — both Republican and Democratic — and the heavyweights on Wall Street, your doubts should be laid to rest. Today it was decided the government will guarantee more than $300 billion of troubled mortgages and other assets of Citigroup under a federal plan to stabilize the lender after its stock fell 60 percent last week. The company will also will get a $20 billion cash infusion from the Treasury Department, adding to the $25 billion the bank received last month under the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

This is not a particularly good deal for American taxpayers, but it is a marvelous deal for Citi. In return for all the cash and guarantees they are giving away, taxpayers will get only $27 billion of preferred shares paying an 8 percent dividend. No other strings are attached. The senior executives of Citi, including those who have served at the highest levels in the US government, have done their jobs exceedingly well. The American public, including the media, have not the slightest clue what just happened.

Meanwhile, more than a million workers in the automobile industry, along with six million mortgagees, and a millions of Americans who depend on small businesses and retailers for paychecks, are getting nothing at all.

As I noted the other day, the difference in urgency between saving wall street and saving main street is apparent.

John Jansen says somebody will pay for this:

Reaction to the Bailout: Tokyo is closed so there is no US Treasury trading this evening. We will have to wait for Europe to arrive to get a reaction.

Stocks are higher. That also seems ludicrous. I do not care what they call this but Citibank is effectively acknowledging that they did not have the resources to survive alone without government assistance. I did not use the words bankrupt or insolvent.

I think that when participants think about this soberly they will be very disturbed and  I am saddened to say that the markets will line up one of the remaining survivors for a pre holiday turkey shoot. It has been the history of this rolling crisis since August 2007 that the worst outcome ensues. The market will seek another prey and relentlessly pursue it.

Originally published at the Economist’s View and reproduced here with the author’s permission.

46 Responses to "The Citigroup Bailout"

  1. devils advocate   November 24, 2008 at 8:42 am

    to all the writers:excellent summation -thank you

    • devils advocate   November 24, 2008 at 8:51 am

      after some deep breathingCiti bonds and C prefered are protectedthis implies that GM bond and prefered will also be preserved

  2. Michael Khor   November 24, 2008 at 9:37 am

    Since the collapsed of Lehman, the public in general and economists in particular are scared to submission to all financial bailouts under the pretext of too big to fail. Amazingly not only there has not been any public outrage but also few experts have questioned the rationale of the bailouts and how Main Street will benefit not just the investors, creditors, management and employees in Wall Street. Does is justify keeping on the process of socializing losses and privatizing profits. When do policy makers draw a line? I like to beg some experts make a study and simulate the negative impact on Main Street if some of these existing zombie banks are allowed to fail? When is it going to stop bailing out at the expense of responsible and prudent American taxpayers? Unless, FED resorts to printing dollar, can this money be better invested in other industries that will be the backbone of the US economics engine rather than being over dependent on financial intermediation and alchemy?Worst of all, the policy makers have been increasing opaque in their policy actions. The lack of transparency can be contagious spreads across the Administration officers and breeding extensive unaccountable attitudes among policy-makers, corporate leaders and etc. Have authority investigated and indicted any greedy corporate leaders who helped create the current financial blackhole?