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May 08, 2009

Use the FDIC to Secure Banks

Catherine New
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The Obama administration revealed the results of its “stress tests” on Thursday, causing banks to start a new scramble for capital — $75 billion in total. The banks in need of additional capital, which include Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup, must present regulators with their plan for raising the funds by June 8.

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on May 6, Dean Glenn Hubbard, writing with Hal Scott and Luigi Zingales, suggests an approach to recapitalizing the banking sector far different from the one adopted by the Treasury. Rather than being offered “carrot” incentive plans, such as TARP, insolvent institutions should be managed by the FDIC, the authors suggest. They write:

It’s time for government to use the stick, beginning with creditors. The first step should be an announcement that the FDIC guarantees of short-term debt, set to expire at the end of October, will not be renewed. Insolvent banks — defined not by stress tests, but as those that cannot fund themselves in the private market — will be taken over by the FDIC. Of course, this takeover plan must be clear and credible. Otherwise creditors will play “chicken” with the government, knowing that at the last minute the government will flinch and fail to remove the guarantees.

… Rather than taking over and running banks, the FDIC should split each bank into two parts. One part (“the bad bank”) will assume all the residential and commercial real-estate loans and securitized mortgages as assets, and all the long-term debt as liabilities. In addition, “the bad bank” will obtain a loan from the “good bank.” This loan is necessary because the long-term debt of the old bank is not likely to be sufficient to fund the assets of the bad bank. The good bank will have all the remaining assets, including derivative contracts and its loan to the bad bank. It will have all the insured deposits and the FDIC-guaranteed short-term debt as liabilities. Once the split is accomplished, the good bank can be cut loose from FDIC receivership.

Photo credit: Joshua Brauer