Back in October, when we started bailing out banks with TARP funds, the Treasury received warrants from each bank in return for their investment. Several of these banks have now paid back the TARP money, but what about the warrants? While I was on vacation the Treasury announced its plan for selling the warrants back:
The Treasury Department said the banks will make the first offer for the warrants. Treasury will then decide to sell at that price or make a counteroffer. If the government and a bank cannot agree on a fair price for the warrants, the two sides will have the right to use private appraisers.
This is ridiculous. This isn't like the toxic waste on bank balance sheets that can't be sold because it's impossible to value. If you want to know how much the warrants are worth, just offer them to the highest bidder. Simon Johnson has it right: "The only sensible way to dispose of these options is for Treasury to set a floor price, and then hold an auction that permits anyone to buy any part — e.g., people could submit sealed bids and the highest price wins."
If the Obama administration wants us to believe that it's not entirely in thrall to the banking industry, it needs to stop offering absurd sweetheart deals like this to banks that already received sweetheart deals in the original TARP bailout — and are continuing to benefit from trillions of dollars in various Fed support programs and liquidity guarantees. Just auction the damn warrants.