Why Government Interaction is Ruining the Marketplaceby Tim Manni
In a deal that was set to finalize at the turn of the year, Bank of America’s acquisition of Merrill Lynch has been delayed over BofA’s claims that they’ll need more money in order to complete the government-encouraged deal:
The commitment of funds is further evidence of the banking system’s delicate condition and its hunger for more capital, despite billions of dollars already invested in financial institutions by the government.
Why would BofA risk their own capital when they could use billions of government funding that they may not even have to pay back? The TARP funds have persuaded institutions to change their attitudes toward certain deals/mergers. While the funds don’t demand specific up-front restrictions, they don’t go without political influence.
Last year when the Treasury Department began doling out TARP funds, their message was clear: they didn’t want to lend to weak institutions. Thus, the Treasury encouraged mergers in order to build larger, more stable institutions.
Just a few months later, some analysts feel the government is reconsidering that strategy:
“Citi is being unwound because it’s too big and the government wants it smaller,” said Paul Miller, an analyst with Friedman Billings Ramsey & Company. “I think Bank of America, either a year or two out, is going to be dismantled also because its returns are going to be too weak. No management has the expertise or brain power to provide the right required return for investors with institutions that are this size.”
The Treasury needs to make up their minds. Unfortunately, throwing money at the problem du jour, is the wrong solution. Rather than deal with more failures and bailouts, the Treasury has decided to lend instead. The smartest lending decision the government has made to this point has been to purchase $600 billion in debt and mortgage-backed securities (MBS) from Fannie and Freddie. At least there’s a opportunity for the taxpayers to see some return on their investment.
Throwing money at massive institutions distorts the marketplace, plain and simple. Government interaction influences institutions away from making their own private market business decisions. Instead of lending, the government should do more investing.