The Unspoken Macro of the Citibank Saga
I’m writing this because it’s how it is and I haven’t seen it written elsewhere.
Let’s assume, for simplicity of the math, Citibank pre crisis had $100 billion private capital, $900 billion in FDIC insured deposits, and $1trillion in loans (assets), which is a capital ratio of 10%. (The sub debt is part of capital. And notice this makes banks public/private partnerships, 10% private and 90% public. Ring a bell?)
This means once Citibank loses more than $100 billion, the FDIC has to write the check for any and all losses.
So if all the remaining loans go bad and become worthless, the FDIC writes the check for the entire $900 billion.
Then the crisis hits, and, again for simplicity of the math, lets assume Citibank has to realize $50 billion in losses. Now their private capital is down to only $50 billion from the original $100 billion.
This drops Citibank’s capital ratio to just over 5%, as they now have only $50 billion in private capital and 950 billion in loan value remaining as assets. So now if Citibank loses only $50 billion more the FDIC has to start writing checks, up to the same max of $900 billion.
But now Citibank’s capital ratio is below the prescribed legal limit. The FDIC needs a larger amount of private capital to give it a larger cushion against possible future losses before it has to write the check. So it’s supposed to declare Citibank insolvent, take it over, reorganize it, sell it, liquidate the pieces, etc. as it sees fit under current banking law. But the Congress and the administration don’t want that to happen, so Treasury Secretary Paulson comes up with a plan. The Treasury, under the proposed TARP program, will ‘inject’ $50 billion of capital in various forms, with punitive terms and conditions, into Citibank to restore its 10% capital ratio.
So Obama flies in, McCain flies in, they have the votes, they don’t have the votes, the Dow is moving hundreds of a points up and down with the possible vote, millions are losing their jobs as America heads for the sidelines to see if Congress can save the world. Finally the TARP passes, hundreds of billions of dollars are approved and added to the federal deficit, with everyone believing we are borrowing the funds from China for our grand children to pay back. And the Treasury bought $50 billion in Citibank stock, with punitive terms and conditions, to restore their capital ratio and save the world.
So then how does Citibank’s capital structure look? They still have the same $50 billion in capital which takes any additional losses first. Then, should additional losses exceed that $50 billion, the Treasury starts writing checks, instead of the FDIC. What’s the difference??? It’s all government, and the FDIC is legally backstopped by the treasury, and taxes banks to try to stay in the black. (riddle, what begins with g and is authorized to tax?)