Thursday, September 25, 2008

Let Warren Buffett Manage the Financial Bailout

Congress is rightly concerned about how and who will manage the bailout. There is no doubt that banks should not be given blank checks at arbitrary pricing for their toxic assets. Also, the Senior Executives of banks benefiting from the bailout must also agree to forgo bonuses for a number of years.

The markets need a quick positive signal from Congress, delays could bring down the entire financial world. Congress should pass a simple bailout package without getting bogged down into the hows and whys. They should request Warren Buffett to manage the entire bailout package. He is the shrewdest investor and will drive hard bargains with banks before giving them a dime. Let him impose conditions as he deems fit. He is already of the opinion that bankers will have to give up bonuses for a while.

Going by Warren's track record, an investment of $700 billion of tax payers money will probably come back to the treasury as $1 trillion. All he needs is a handful of good people to help him manage this.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Financial Bailout and its Implications

Enough has been said already about greed, big salary and bonus payouts to senior executives of banks. The situation is where it is - precarious and needs to be addressed urgently. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has been running around for the last couple of weeks trying to avoid a 1929/30 style financial meltdown and all credit to him for his deft handling of the situation so far.

The current proposal before the Congress is to approve an emergency fund of $800 billion (with no apparent upper limit) to be managed by Treasury Department to buy toxic mortgages and exotic paper from banks for cash in order to provide liquidity to financial institutions. Despite the loud protests of Congress, almost everyone knows that this bill will pass and funds will be made available.

Congress may wish to place an upper limit, so this does not become an open ended commitment. Paulson himself suggested in the weekend talk show interviews that amount needed could exceed $1 trillion. This is almost equal to the amount spent on Iraq war to date. So wither plans of ending the war to save money to spend on social programs.

The Congress should also consider putting a mechanism in place that any bank benefiting from this fund will agree to freeze the salaries and bonuses of top 5% executives until such time as the treasury holds their toxic paper. Once the paper is sold, the restriction is lifted. Also, Congress should consider setting up a three member committee of reputable citizens with financial experience who will approve any bonus payments to top 5% executives of banks and financial institutions benefiting from this fund. This may seem draconian, but it is important to give a sense to tax payers that bankers will not start paying themselves huge bonuses until such time as their money is tied up in toxic assets.

The wider implications of the bailout are much greater. The national debt already ballooning out of control will exceed $11 trillion. No one knows how this will ever be paid down or how many decades it will take to bring it down to the level it was eight years ago. Treasury will probably end up printing more money and that could cause serious inflation, erosion in value of dollar and a possible shift from Dollar to Euro as the world currency. High inflation will result in high wage demands by unions, resulting in even greater inflation, mortgage foreclosures and credit card debt defaults.

I hope Paulson and Bernanke are considering all those eventualities and are ready to tackle what is to follow.