Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Boondoggle dissection

A draft version of the bill authorizing Secretary Paulson to use $700,000,000,000.00 as he pretty much pleases is posted here. A quick, non-economist, layman's readthrough does not seem augur well for the following reasons:

1. How did we arrive at the $700,000,000,000.00 number? Very Unclear.
2. The planned Oversight Board is very very weak and staffed by insiders.
3. To call the section on Executive Compensation 'opaque' would amount to flattery.
4. No clarity on the price that the people would pay to acquire toxic assets.

1. It is customary in planning and budgetary practices to breakdown large dollar numbers into smaller chunks which help demystify and clarify the individual components and constituents which ultimately add upto create the total amount. This is typically done either in the main text or appendices: The only reference to $700 billion I could find was the following sentence:

The authority of the Secretary to purchase troubled assets under this Act shall be limited to $700,000,000,000 outstanding at any one time, by aggregating the purchase prices of all troubled assets held and any expenditures.

No breakup, nothing... Hopefully, a breakup of how the 700 number is clarified in the final version of the bill.

2. Everyone has been clamoring for a strong oversight board - if not to make sure that Secretary Paulson does not go on a trip to Las Vegas with the booty, at least to make sure that the billions are not used in partisan, Street friendly ways. Well, from the looks of it, the oversight board is weak and not independent at all. Judging from the fact that most of the players who indirectly wrote / co-wrote this are on the oversight board - cat guarding the henhouse...

The Emergency Oversight Board shall be comprised of the following:
- Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
- The Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
- Chairperson of the Securities and Exchange Commission
- Two members who are not government employees, having appropriate financial expertise

The first three individuals mentioned were government employees tasked with making sure that we did not fall into this mess in the first place and they failed. Now we put them on an oversight board to bail out companies responsible for bringing the economy to its knees...

Hopefully, we see a little more independent oversight teeth added to the final version.

3. The other item deemed important was the need to put checks and balances on executive compensation such that all entities seeking to sell assets through the bailout under the Act meet some kind of punitive standards. One of the ideas advanced was to limit compensation for the CEOs of such entities to be lower than the United States President... Well, the bill is as vague as it can get in this subject...

The Secretary shall require that all entities seeking to sell assets through a program established under this Act meet appropriate standards for executive compensation and shareholder disclosure in order to be eligible, which standards shall include
- limits on compensation to exclude incentives for executives to take risks that the Secretary deems to be inappropriate or excessive;
- a claw-back provision for incentive compensation paid to a senior executive based on earnings, gains, or other criteria that are later proven to be inaccurate and
- such limitations on the entity paying severance compensation to its senior executives as are determined to be appropriate in the public interest in light of the assistance being given to the entity.

Pretty much means - the CEOs keep on making what they currently get - the bill will couch it in a language so broad and unclear, you CEOs need not have to worry one bit...

Hopefully, we will see clearer punitive measures added to the final version.

4. As far as the prices that they plan on purchasing the assets at – the bill is very, very vague – Are they planning on purchasing the assets at market price (par) or substantially above market price (both of which has its own advantages and disadvantages in a macro economic aspect)…

This definitely needs a lot of work and is not something that the lawmakers should rush and sign…

No comments: