Admit it: When the federal government decided last fall to spend hundreds of billions to stabilize banks through the Troubled Assets Relief Program, or TARP, you thought the money was as good as gone.
Not so, President Barack Obama said at the White House on June 9, 2009.
"Several financial institutions are set to pay back $68 billion to taxpayers," he said. "And while we know that we will not escape the worst financial crisis in decades without some losses to taxpayers, it's worth noting that in the first round of repayments from these companies the government has actually turned a profit."
A quick summary of how we got to this point:
As part of the TARP, the government invested about $200 billion in 600 banks across the country, essentially buying up preferred stock.
A lot of banks now want out. The government money came with strings, including restrictions on executive compensation. Plus, there was a stigma attached to participating in the government program.
On June 9, the Treasury Department announced that 10 of the largest financial institutions that participated in the Capital Purchase Program (through TARP) have been approved to repay $68 billion. Yes, they had to be approved to repay the money. The companies had to prove they no longer needed the money, because the government doesn't want them begging for more down the road.
To date, those 10 companies have paid dividends on their preferred stock to the Treasury totaling about $1.8 billion, the Treasury announced. Overall, dividend payments from all of the 600 bank participants has come to about $4.5 billion so far. That's commensurate with the 5 percent (annualized) dividend return that was part of the terms of the program.
Now, the government borrowed the money it invested in the banks, and so dividends from the preferred stock are offset by interest the government has had to pay on its loans. But that interest rate has been lower than the 5 percent dividend rate. So when the companies repay the loans, it will result in some profit to the government, banking analysts told us.
There's another potential profit center. As part of the deal with banks, the federal government received warrants to buy stock at a future date (with the hope that as the economy improved and bank stock value rose, the government could share in the bounty). According to the Treasury announcement on June 9, firms that repay their preferred stock have the right to repurchase those warrants at fair market value. Experts believe that could fetch the government several billion dollars. That's in addition to the dividends.
David John, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said that while it's accurate to say the government is turning a profit on these specific transactions, it was so costly to create the TARP that "you can't say the overall program is a moneymaker."
And, John said, the 10 financial institutions that will be repaying the Treasury are among the strongest. It remains to be seen how the others will fare, he said.
"It's way too soon to judge the entire program," John said. "I'd be surprised if it ends up anything better than break-even."
Still, the public too often tagged TARP as a bailout, said John Hall, a spokesman for the American Bankers Association.
"It's as if people thought money was handed out to banks," Hall said. "It wasn't. And it drove us nuts. The government has turned a profit. It made money plus some."
Bank analyst Bert Ely said while the government may end up losing money on investments in some financial firms, it's likely the entirety of the bank portion of the TARP will ultimately turn a profit.
The 5 percent paid in dividends on preferred stock purchased by the Treasury will certainly outpace the interest rate on money borrowed to finance the program, he said. And the warrants could also prove profitable.
"People think the government gave banks money," Ely said. "They made investments in banks."
As for Obama's claim, he is careful to note that the overall program could still cost taxpayers money, but he is correct to say the government turned a profit on the first round of repayments. We rate his statement True.