Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Banks/Treasury Mating Dance

Wall Street and Washington are not known for subtleties, but bailout discourse is getting to be like the dialogue in a Jane Austen novel with coy hints, convoluted language and hidden meanings in every line.

In "a delicate balancing act," we are told, "The administration has decided to reveal some sensitive details of the stress tests now being completed" to offset rumors about some of the weakest institutions.

This breach of etiquette is prompted by recent declarations of some impoverished but proud banks that they are actually making money again and will pay back or decline future government charity.

Translation: Banks want the money but only without being told how to pay not only top executives but, as one returner of bailout cash puts it, "our best sales people, our best relationship bankers."

If Obama is Mr. Darcy in all this folderol, Goldman Sachs is turning out to be his Elizabeth Bennet, pridefully announcing plans to disdain further help: “We just think that operating our business without the government capital would be an easier thing to do. We’d be under less scrutiny, and under less pressure."

But Goldman's newfound haughtiness can't cover the fact that it has been kept afloat by billions of never-to-be-returned Federal Reserve money paying off AIG obligations at face value rather than deep discounts, as the Wall Street Journal observes:

"The point is that Goldman and other banks can't have it both ways. If they want taxpayers to save them, then they have to take fewer risks and become smaller. Either that, or we need a new financial resolution or bankruptcy process that lets these companies fail while protecting the larger banking system."

Meanwhile, the plots keep thickening and, unlike Jane Austen's works, are not guaranteed to have happy endings.

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