- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2009

UPDATED:

The Obama administration unveiled its long-awaited bank rescue plan Tuesday but it did not spell out how it would resolve the most critical issue on Wall Street — how to dispose of unsellable debts — and provoked widespread disappointment that sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeting nearly 400 points.

The goal of the program was to dramatically widen aid for banks and credit markets, using $300 billion from the Treasury’s remaining bank bailout funds to try to leverage as much as $2 trillion in funding from private markets and the Federal Reserve as the way to return the financial system to health.

But the most critical element of the plan — to create a fund that would purchase and dispose of trillions of dollars of souring loans on bank books using a combination of federal and private funds — was offered in only two vague paragraphs that gave little hint as to how the program would work and provoked massive skepticism and doubt on Wall Street.

Major stock indexes lost more than 4 percent of their value, the Dow fell below 8,000 to end at 7,888.88, and bank stocks that were supposed to be helped by the plan plummeted by 14 percent on average in the worst market drubbing since the day President Obama took office.

“This was not ready for prime time. Someone miscalculated,” said Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at the Economic Outlook Group.

“Wall Street was expecting a specific plan, and we didn’t get it … There were no specifics, such as guarantees from the government that those toxic assets will not fall to a lower value.”

“Through weeks of build-up to the Tuesday announcement, the administration had led not only Wall Street but many in Congress and on Main Street to believe it would offer a comprehensive and credible plan to solve the bad loan problem.

“This is the most important program of all, and it’s surprising that they haven’t gotten their act together,” Mr. Baumohl added.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the department is still reviewing a “range of options” to leverage an estimated $200 billion or less of uncommitted bailout funds through a mechanism that would take potentially trillions of dollars of bad loans off bank books.

But many Wall Street executives are hard put to understand how such a program would work, since private investors to date have been unwilling to pay anything more than pennies on the dollar for such loans.

Confronted with Wall Street’s bad reaction, Mr. Geithner told Bloomberg News: “This is very complicated to get it right … We are going to try to get it right before we give the details so that we don’t add further to uncertainty in these markets.”

President Obama later in an ABC “Nightline” interview accused Wall Street executives of creating the problem and then sitting back and expecting the government to solve it for them.

“Wall Street, I think, is hoping for an easy out on this thing and there is no easy out,” he said.

Besides leaving details of the so-called “bad bank” program to the imagination, the Treasury announcement also did not detail how it would use $50 billion of the bailout funds to limit home foreclosures, although the administration had broadcast widely in advance that it would take several more days to complete that plan.

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