When Timothy Geithner unveiled the Treasury Department’s latest financial rescue plan, he probably didn’t expect it to flop so quickly.
Geithner had no sooner finished presenting the plan about a week ago when Wall Street gave it a loud raspberry and sent the Dow plummeting in what amounted to a vote of no confidence. The main reason widely cited by commentators was the lack of details in the plan (see Geithner Outlines Financial Stimulus Plan).
Geithner kept promising to unveil various parts of the plan in the next few weeks, including a Public-Private Investment Fund for buying up troubled assets such as mortgage-backed securities, and a program to address the housing crisis. The housing crisis plan announcement has been moved up to this Wednesday to help allay some of those concerns.
Still, the newly minted Treasury Secretary shouldn’t be blamed for the vagueness of the plans. After all, he helped his predecessor, Henry Paulson, draw up the original plans for the Troubled Asset Relief Program and the Capital Purchase Program, which Paulson promptly threw overboard.
Now Geithner has to try to patch up those programs and add more accountability to address the outrage of lawmakers and ordinary taxpayers who are disturbed by the stories of the continuing greed of banks that have benefited from the first $350 billion installment of the $700 billion bailout. He also has to address the complaints of those who say the plan has not done enough to fix the mortgage mess. Some banks are finally putting a temporary moratorium on foreclosures while they await the latest details to come out of the Treasury.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Geithner was all set to go with a different plan than the one he briefly described last week for dealing with the troubled assets before realizing that it probably wouldn’t work. That left his aides scrambling to come up with an alternative in the wee hours of the morning before his speech.
They now plan to start the Public-Private Investment Fund to encourage more private investors to buy up the assets and lower the risk to taxpayers, but it’s not clear yet what kinds of inducements the government is going to offer to persuade investors to buy the illiquid securities they have been wisely avoiding. It also didn’t help that President Obama set the bar a little too high for Geithner’s speech by delaying it for a day and saying in his prime-time news conference that he didn’t want to give out too many details and thereby steal Geithner’s “moment in the sun.”
Geithner is going to need time to flesh out these plans and sell them convincingly enough to instill more confidence in an increasingly shaky market. Even the newly signed $787 billion stimulus bill does not seem to be engendering much of an appetite on Wall Street. The administration is probably right not to set too much store by whether the Dow goes up or down on a given day, but economists and investors alike are noneless looking to the markets to give a thumbs up or down on any new policies they hear about. Or barely hear much about.
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