"Superfund collapse ‘embarrassing’ to Treasury"

The headline above appears in a Financial Times story today. Note that if any such sentiments are voiced in the press in the US, they are discreetly tucked away in the body of the story.

Why do we treat people in the officialdom with kid gloves? Paulson put himself front and center on this SIV rescue initiative. The Treasury Department as late as last Tuesday was saying the program was still a go. An official who uses his bully pulpit indiscriminately should be called to account.

From the Financial Times:

The collapse of the plan to create a $75bn “superfund” is embarrassing for the US Treasury, which backed the scheme, but is not likely to have big implications for financial markets, analysts and former officials said.

The idea – to create a fund to support liquidity in the market for housing-related securities – was killed off late on Friday when the banks behind the scheme abandoned it after other financial institutions showed little interest.

The former Goldman Sachs duo of Hank Paulson, the Treasury secretary, and Robert Steel, the under secretary for domestic finance, helped to broker the original agreement to create the fund. The idea was to allow managers of structured investment vehicles (SIVs) and conduits unable to obtain refinancing from investors to run down holdings in an orderly manner without a fire sale of assets.

At the time the plan was unveiled people involved talked in the region of $75bn–$100bn (€52bn–€70bn, £39bn–£50bn). But by the time the banks trying to create the fund – Citigroup, Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase – and asset manager BlackRock pulled the plug, expectations had fallen to less than half of that amount….

The US Treasury always emphasised the plan was a private sector initiative and was not intended to preclude other restructuring efforts. However, officials took credit for convening the negotiations that led to the agreement. A former administration official said the supersiv had been in trouble from the start, with many in the markets deeply sceptical. The Federal Reserve failed to offer public support, while Alan Greenspan, former Fed chairman, voiced concerns.

European policymakers were doubtful as to whether it would work. With the US Treasury holding back for fear of giving the impression that it was a government plan, no one explained fully what its purpose was and how it would operate. Such a fund could not be set up overnight and negotiations were complicated by the turmoil in the top ranks of the US banking industry.

In the event, the supersiv was overtaken by events. Managers of SIVs and conduits unable to wait for it found other ways to dispose of assets. SIV assets fell from $340bn this summer to $265bn in early December…..

Mr Paulson is now focusing his efforts on selling the other deal he brokered – to freeze the interest rates on some subprime loans and fast-track others for refinancing. This time the Fed is visibly behind the scheme.

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  1. Anonymous

    From a few days ago:

    SuperSIV” fund, set up to provide cash to structured investment vehicles hurt by the collapse of the subprime-mortgage market, plans to start buying assets “within weeks,” its sponsors said today.

    The fund’s size, originally envisioned at about $80 billion, will be based on “SIVs’ needs and evolving market circumstances,” Citigroup Inc., Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and BlackRock Inc. said in an e-mailed statement. The banks are raising money for the fund to buy assets from SIVs. BlackRock will be the manager.

  2. mike

    I had completely forgotten about the SuperSIV brainchild.

    Let’s see? The banks were going to create a fund to buy their own stuff.

    Not a bad plan for sophomoric Paulson.

    Then there is plan ‘B,’ to freeze interest rates. Paulson & his government are not parties to the mortgage interest rate agreements.

    I guess that is irrelevant under authoritarian rule.

  3. Steve

    The MLEC failed because it tried to distribute risk to people who didn’t want any. Frankly, Paulson and the sponsors seem to have underestimated the analytical abilities of potential outside participants ($15B from the Japanese? Sure, they’ll go for it.) Back on Nov. 26th, Bloomberg ran this:

    Loomis Sayles & Co. declined to invest [in the MLEC] after receiving one of 16 invitations for a meeting earlier this month with current Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, said Daniel Fuss, who oversees $22 billion as chief investment officer at the Boston-based firm.
    “It’s so nice to get a personal invitation to go to Washington and have a one-hour visit with Ben Bernanke,” said Fuss, who decided participating wasn’t worth the risk to his firm. “Oh, boy, did I feel important for about 27 seconds, and then you smell a rat.”


  4. Steve


    Sorry for the repeat, I missed the earlier post. Maybe now that MLEC is dead, more of the details will come out and we’ll find out what caused the Japanese to roll out their legendary politeness!

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