Monday, August 31, 2009

Is the U.S. Making a Profit Off of it's Bailouts?: Media Spin and Reality

Today, the New York Times presents us a lovely piece of journalism entitled "As Banks Repay Bailout Money, U.S. Sees a Profit," written by Zachery Kouwe. What an optimistic title! Then we read the first two paragraphs:

Nearly a year after the federal rescue of the nation’s biggest banks, taxpayers have begun seeing profits from the hundreds of billions of dollars in aid that many critics thought might never be seen again.

The profits, collected from eight of the biggest banks that have fully repaid their obligations to the government, come to about $4 billion, or the equivalent of about 15 percent annually, according to calculations compiled for The New York Times.
Wow! That's great, right? Then the "buts" begin ....

The government still faces potentially huge long-term losses from its bailouts of the insurance giant American International Group, the mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the automakers General Motors and Chrysler. The Treasury Department could also take a hit from its guarantees on billions of dollars of toxic mortgages.
So, this article reports that the U.S. has earned about $4 Billion in profit from the TARP program. At the same time, the trillions of dollars in other bail-outs, the stimulus program, and the rest of the TARP program have yet to produce much of any kind of positive return. In other words, the overall picture is still negative but you wouldn't be able to deduce that based on the headline and tone of this article.

The naked capitalism blog calls out the New York Times (and the Financial Times, which published a similar story) on their transparent attempts at spin.

In a simply remarkable coincidence of timing, the New York Time running a story with the very same message, namely that bailouts are good for taxpayers because the Treasury has made money on the TARP.

If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you. The fact that we have such patent garbage running as a front page New York Times story says either the reporter and his editors lack the ability to think critically (or find sources who could do that for them) or that we have a controlled press. Given that subscriber-driven Bloomberg has even fallen in line, I am inclined to the latter view, but I am still curious as to how this has been achieved. Is this the price of access journalism, or is something more pernicious at work?

Naked capitalism refutes the idea that the TARP program is transforming into a profitable venture for the federal government:

A quick but not conclusive search suggests that only a small portion of the TARP has been retired, so it is wildly premature to declare victory.

In fact, another source looked at the TARP as of June and estimated that it had lost $148 billion, and had lowered loss total as a result of the repayments. Now bank stocks have rallied since then, but the biggest contributors to the red ink, namely AIG and Citigroup, are not in any better shape fundamentally than they were then. Indeed, the fact that new AIG CEO Robert Benmosche has in a remarkable show of hubris, effectively told the US taxpayer to stuff it, AIG has the dough and is in no particular hurry to return it, nor does it care what the public or Treasury wants, its demands are unreasonable. I wouldn’t hold my breath about having the loans repaid.

I don't want to leech any more of naked capitalism's post, so I encourage you to go over there and read for yourself, there is much more. Another, similar post from earlier in the day can be found by clicking here.

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