Four years after the 2008 financial crisis, Wall Street still isn’t fixed. Yes, it looks healthier, thanks to the bailouts. But it also seemed healthy before the mortgage bubble popped. When the bailout bubble bursts, New York will suffer more than anywhere else.
The Troubled Asset Relief Program — TARP — bailed out banks, auto firms and AIG. Now some brave souls at the Obama Treasury Department are pushing it as an example of how good government works.
Last week, Treasury released an easy reader crowing that the $700 billion TARP bailout and related Federal Reserve rescues were “well-designed,” “carefully managed” and “effective.” Treasury boasts that the bailouts could make a “positive return” — that is, a profit — proving the naysayers wrong.
How? The government has lost $22 billion on autos, $16 billion (at least), on homeowner help, and $151 billion on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The profit’s not there.
No, that “positive return” is in finance. Treasury investments in banks and insurer AIG could yield $2 billion. Its mortgage investments (separate from Fan/Fred) could yield $25 billion.
But the big money is at the Fed, which Treasury says will return $179 billion to Washington in “excess earnings.”
How’s that? The Fed used to be dull — buying and selling Treasury bonds to tweak interest rates slightly. But since 2008 it’s transformed itself into a $2.9 trillion hedge fund — purchasing toxic AIG assets and nearly a trillion dollars in mortgage securities.
The Fed can make a “profit” simply because this stuff has value as long as interest rates are super-cheap. Low rates mean that more people can pretend they can afford to pay all they’ve borrowed. So the Fed’s assets, which are made up of other people’s debt, look nice.