Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bernanke on Fire-Sale Prices

by Bill McBride on 9/23/2008 01:38:00 PM

From Reuters: Bernanke's comments on asset auction process

I believe that under the Treasury program, auctions and other mechanisms could be devised that will give the market good information on what the hold-to-maturity price is for a large class of mortgage-related assets. If the Treasury bids for and then buys assets at a price close to the hold-to-maturity price, there will be substantial benefits.

[B]anks will have a basis for valuing those assets and will not have to use fire sale prices. Their capital will not be unreasonably marked down.
Originally I expected the plan to have two components: 1) buy troubled assets from institutions, and 2) an RFC type recapitalization plan. However the plan did not include the recapitalization provision, so the clear intent is to pay premium prices (to current market prices) for troubled assets to recapitalize the institutions (with no equity participation for taxpayers).

Bernanke and Paulson are clearly arguing the current market prices are wrong - that they are "fire sale prices".

Krugman has more: Getting real — and letting the cat out of the bag
[T]he key question is what price Treasury pays for the assets. And here we have Bernanke effectively saying that it’s going to pay above-market prices — prices that allegedly reflect “hold-to-maturity” value, but still more than private investors are willing to pay.
...
[T]he plan only helps the financial situation if Treasury pays prices well above market — that is, if it is in effect injecting capital into financial firms, at taxpayers’ expense.

What possible justification can there be for doing this without acquiring an equity stake?

No equity stake, no deal.
One thing is clear - something we all guessed correctly - is that the intention of the plan is to pay premium prices for troubled assets to recapitalize the banks. It’s still not clear how the price mechanism will work, and unfortunately Paulson and Bernanke are unable to describe how this will work.

Except Paulson did say they would hire “really good asset managers” to determine the price. A little sarcasm: I suppose these are asset managers that have been shorting financials for the last couple of years (hat tip Seminole).