The Cost of Government Financial Interventions, Past and Present

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[Excerpt] Between March and September 2008, the federal government intervened financially with private corporations on three occasions, resulting in the government receiving significant debt and equity considerations. The firms affected were Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and AIG. Dissatisfaction with the case-by-case approach to addressing the ongoing financial turmoil led Treasury to propose a more comprehensive approach on September 19, 2008. On October 3, 2008, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (EESA, P.L. 110-343) was signed into law, authorizing the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP). TARP gave Treasury the option of purchasing or insuring up to $700 billion of assets from financial firms. On October 14, 2008, Treasury announced it was shifting its focus towards direct capital injections into banks through the purchase of preferred shares. Treasury’s announced “capital purchase plan” was for purchasing up to $250 billion in financial firms’ preferred stock under the TARP authority, with approximately $187.5 billion actually purchased as of December 31, 2008. In addition to the general capital purchase plan, there have been several other case-by-case interventions since the passage of the EESA. The initial $85 billion AIG loan from mid-September was first augmented and then revamped into a combination package of a $60 billion line of credit, $40 billion in preferred share purchases, up to $20.9 billion in commercial paper purchases, and up to $52.5 billion in troubled asset purchases. Citigroup received an additional $20 billion in preferred share purchases after an initial $25 billion, along with federal guarantees to cover losses on a $306 billion pool of assets. The U.S. automakers also received financial assistance through TARP, with a $5 billion preferred share purchase from GMAC, up to $14.4 billion in loans to GM and up to $4 billion in loans promised to Chrysler. These interventions have prompted questions regarding the taxpayer costs and the sources of funding. The sources of funding are relatively straightforward—primarily the Federal Reserve (Fed) and the U.S. Treasury. The costs, however, are difficult to quantify at this stage. In most of the interventions, many of the financial outflows that are possible have yet to occur, and the ultimate value of the debt and equity considerations received from the private firms is uncertain. At this point, the federal government has the option to own nearly 80% of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and AIG. Depending on the final proceeds from the various debt and equity considerations, the federal government may end up seeing a positive fiscal contribution from the recent interventions, as was the case in some of the past interventions summarized in the tables at the end of this report. The government may also suffer significant losses, as has also occurred in the past. This report will be updated as warranted by legislative and market events.
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public policy; financial crisis; bailout; Troubled Assets Relief Program; TARP; Treasury
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