Investment Guru Meredith Whitney has an article arguing that the banks need to sell off their assets:
America’s banks need to hold a yard sale
A clear lesson learnt from this credit crisis has been to sell and sell early. However, it appears as if US banks are setting out to make some of the same mistakes of the past 18 months all over again. In many instances, those mistakes determined who survived and who did not.
Throughout 2007 and 2008, when I asked managements why they were not more aggressive in disposing of assets, the common answer I received was that they believed current prices were too distressed and did not reflect the true underlying value. Unfortunately, the longer they waited, the less these assets were in fact worth. Such a strategy cost Merrill Lynch and Citigroup more than half of their per share capital. In the case of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, capital all but vaporised. These are just some examples but in reality this applies to too many financial institutions.
Throughout 2008, hundreds of billions of dollars were raised to recapitalise US financial institutions, but this money simply went to plug holes created by holding on to assets with declining values. Until the fourth quarter, monies were raised from willing investors. However, beginning in the fourth quarter with troubled asset relief programme capital created to recapitalise these institutions, US taxpayers became the default investors.
Now, when the average taxpayer finds him or herself overextended, he or she is forced to backtrack and, in situations of duress, sell stuff (otherwise known as a yard sale). In these cases, selling a set of snow skis for $15 or a prized record collection for $10 is not desirable but is necessary. Why should the US taxpayer be forced to fund behaviour that he or she would never have the luxury of indulging in?
Citigroup provides a prime illustration to support this argument. Last Friday, Vikram Pandit, Citigroup’s chief executive, stated: “We are not in a rush to sell assets.” This comes from a company that has incurred more than $51bn (€39bn, £36bn) in writedowns and has called upon more than $45bn in Tarp money from the taxpayer. At a minimum, this seems like a company currently operating under a different rule book from that used by taxpayers. . . .
While it is never pleasant to sell one’s “crown jewels”, the strain of this credit crisis and the overextension of many bank balance sheets will require that they sell what they can and perhaps not what they would like. After all, that is what the average taxpayer would be forced to do.
I think that the US government should have a yard sale too, starting a multi-decade process of selling off public land, perhaps selling a tenth or a hundredth of a percent of holdings every year for a century.
After all, the federal government owns over half of five Western states and over 40% of nine states:
New Mexico 41.8%
It’s time for America to start an annual yard sale of stuff for which the government has little use. This has the ancillary positive effect of reducing excessive government power over its citizens and resources. Does the government really need to own 45% of the state of California?