Yesterday, I suggested that the idea of the "Stress Test" for banks was really just a marketing ploy by the Treasury to boost confidence that the United States financial system is stable. After all the back-bending, and billions in bailout funds to avoid bank failures, do we really think the Treasury is suddenly going to declare any banks insolvent?
Highly unlikely, in my opinion.
So if the Treasury is unwilling to nail any banks, what does that mean for the Public-Private Investment Program that's supposed to buy banks' toxic assets? What will be the motivation for selling if there are no consequences for keeping these assets and waiting for value to return?
Well, it would appear that the Treasury is playing the "opportunity cost" card. Offer the banks a premium for these assets now that might otherwise take years to achieve.
The banks win, as they free up their balance sheets and can theoretically increase lending. The "Toxic Investors" win, as they buy potentially valuable assets with very little of their own money while the Fed and Treasury subsidize the rest. And the taxpayer wins as Fed and Treasury loans are paid back.
I don't know about you, but that all sounds a little too perfect. Something's bound to go wrong with this neat little win-win-win scenario. And I know who isn't going to get shafted – the investors who partner with the Treasury to buy these assets.
That's because they simply won't be taking on much risk at all, and they potentially make a lot of money.