'Sham' Bailouts Help Speculators

by Chris Sturr | May 15, 2009

Naked Capitalism has a couple of nice posts about comments made by Michael Patterson, head of a private equity firm, to the Telegraph that reflect very poorly on TARP. Here is the story from the Telegraph (which has since been yanked from their site, apparently because Patterson objected to it; it is preserved at zerohedge.blogspot.com):

US ‘sham’ bank bail-outs enrich speculators, says buy-out chief Mark Patterson

The US Treasury’s effort to stabilise the banking system through the TARP programme is a hopelessly ill-conceived policy that enriches speculators at public expense, according to the buy-out firm supposed to be pioneering the joint public-private bank rescues.

“The taxpayers ought to know that we are in effect receiving a subsidy. They put in 40pc of the money but get little of the equity upside,” said Mark Patterson, chairman of MatlinPatterson Advisers.

The comments are likely to infuriate Tim Geithner, the US Treasury Secretary, because MatlinPatterson took advantage of the TARP’s matching funds to buy Flagstar Bancorp in Michigan. His confession appears to validate concerns that the bail-out strategy is geared towards Wall Street.

Under the convoluted deal agreed earlier this year, MatlinPatterson has come to own 80pc of the shares while the US government has ended up with under 10pc.

Mr Patterson said the US Treasury is out of its depth and seems to be trying to put off drastic action by pretending that the banking system is still viable.

“It’s a sham. The banks are insolvent. The US government is trying to sedate the public because they are down to the last $100bn (£66bn) of the $700bn TARP funds. They think they’re doing this for the greater good of society,” he said, speaking at the Qatar Global Investment Forum.

Mr Patterson said it would be better for the US to bite the bullet as Britain has done, accepting that crippled lenders must be nationalised. “At least the British are not hiding the bail-out,” he said.

MatlinPatterson said private equity and hedge funds were deluding themselves in hoping to go back to business as usual after the trauma of the last 18 months.

“This is not a normal recession and there will be no V-shaped recovery. The crisis has destroyed leveraged companies. We’re going to see a catastrophic increase in the number of LBO’s (leveraged buyouts) going into default because they’re knee-deep in debt and no solution exists since they can’t refinance,” he said.

“Alfa hedge funds have been making their money by gambling with excessive leverage, so the knife that cuts off leverage is going to cut off their heads as well,” he said.

Like many bears, Mr Patterson expects the great crunch to end in deliberate inflation, deemed a lesser evil than outright depression.

“The US government has thrown 29pc of GDP at this crisis compared to 8pc in the early 1930s. The Fed’s balance sheet has risen from $900bn to $2.7 trillion to bail out the system. America has to do it because the only way out is to debase the currency, but that is going to lead to some very high inflation three years down the road,” he said.

Matlin Patterson, however, has missed the Spring rebound, the most powerful rise in equities in over 70 years. “We shorted the equity rally because we thought it was lunatic. We’ve kept adding positions seven times, and we’re still holding,” he said. Ouch!

Here’s what Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism had to say about the piece:

The TARP elicited a firestorm of criticism at its inception, and at various points of its short existence, particularly the repeated injections into “too big to fail” Citigroup and Bank of America, plus the charade of Paulson forcing TARP funds onto banks who were eager to take them once the terms were revealed. Now, however, conventional wisdom on the program might be summarized as, “it’s flawed, but still better than doing nothing.”

That of course is a false polarity. Having the TARP, particularly given the amount of funds committed, precluded quite a few other courses of action. And the TARP was part of a strategy to avoid resolving sick banks, when the history of banking crises shows that speedy action to clean up dud banks and restructure or write off bad debt (both of the bank and to the bank) is the fastest course to economic recovery.

So far, the beneficiaries of the handouts equity injections have complained only about the Obama Adminstation’s occasional efforts to act like a substantial shareholder and exercise some influence over the companies’ affaris. We are the first to acknowledge that these too often have involved matters of appearance (executive pay) as opposed to substance (risk taking on the taxpayer dime for the benefit of shareholders and employees).

But now we have a salvo from an unexpected source: an investor who used TARP funds to buy a bank, and thinks taxpayers are getting ripped off. Mark Patterson, of MartnPatterson Advisers, used TARP matching funds to buy a Michigan bank. This by no means was a large transaction, but the point is that someone that one would expect to praise the process (after all, he benefitted from its largesse) is a pointed critic.

And this more recent post (from a larger project she has of showing how the business press airbrushes negative economic news):

We posted last night on a Telegraph story, in which one Michael Patterson, head of a private equity firm that used TARP funds to buy a Michigan bank, said some less than positive things about it at an conference.

If you go to the link to the story now, guess what? The Telegraph has yanked it.

Tyler Durden had the presence of mind to put up the entire piece on his blog. Patterson has been issuing requests for retraction, claiming “factual errors” and the Telly complied. Patterson has had his “representatives” which I assume means attorneys, send a copy of the letter that Patterson sent to the Telegraph effectively disclaiming the entire content of the artice. . Durden has said he is willing to correct any factual errors (as opposed to deep sixing the entire story).

Patterson spoke at the Qatar Investment Forum. He has no reason to expect confidentiality; the remarks were made in a public forum with no restrictions placed on the attendees. Durden is soliciting input from fellow panelists and attendees as to what Patterson really said.

—cs

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