July 9, 2009 in Business

Toxic assets plan shrinks

Public-private partnership to launch at $40 billion
Kevin G. Hall McClatchy
 

WASHINGTON – Almost four months after it was first announced, the Treasury Department late Wednesday rolled out a scaled-back version of its long-awaited plan to purchase jointly with the private sector bad mortgage-based assets plaguing the nation’s banks.

The heads of Treasury, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Federal Reserve announced the terms of the public-private partnership to purchase the so-called toxic assets that remain at the heart of the global financial crisis. It will be one to three more months before the program becomes operational.

Although once expected to cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars, the Treasury Department will invest $30 billion initially, alongside $10 billion from select private-sector firms. The program can be expanded quickly if economic conditions deteriorate, regulators said.

The Obama administration hopes that these private investors, subsidized by the government, will snap up mortgage-backed securities.

The securities expanded mortgage finance over the past two decades, but there’s been virtually no market for them since 2007 when the housing meltdown began because many of the mortgages packaged into the securities are no longer being paid. That’s made the securities difficult to price. That, in turn, led the banks that own them to be skittish about making new loans.

The resulting slowdown in credit has contributed to economic stagnation.

“We’re not trying to be the market. We’re trying to jump-start the market, and that ($40 billion) is a significant amount of capital” for that purpose, said a senior Treasury official briefing reporters. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak freely.

Nine fund managers approved by Treasury will bid against one another for mortgage assets that banks and other financial institutions might be willing to sell. By competitive bidding, the nine firms should set a market price for the assets, which could guide the broader mortgage-securities market.

The nine fund managers are AllianceBernstein, LP; Angelo Gordon & Co.; BlackRock Inc.; Invesco Ltd.; Marathon Asset Management LP; Oaktree Capital Management; RLJ Western Asset Management LP; The TCW Group Inc.; and Wellington Management Co.

Treasury will provide quarterly reports, but it doesn’t plan to disclose whether the assets are selling for 10 cents on the dollar of their face value, or 30 cents, or any other reference price.

Trillions of dollars worth of bad mortgage-backed securities sit on bank balance sheets, but banks have refused for almost three years to sell them at giveaway prices.


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