Jan 13, 2011

TARP - Quiet Success

In October 2008, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (Division A of Public Law 110-343) established the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to enable the Department of the Treasury to promote stability in financial markets through the purchase and guarantee of "troubled assets." Section 202 of that legislation requires the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to submit semiannual reports on the costs of the Treasury's purchases and guarantees of troubled assets. The law also requires the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to prepare an assessment of each OMB report within 45 days of its issuance. That assessment must discuss three elements:
  • The costs of purchases and guarantees of troubled assets,
  • The information and valuation methods used to calculate those costs, and
  • The impact on the federal budget deficit and debt.
To fulfill its statutory requirement, CBO has prepared this report on transactions completed, outstanding, and anticipated under the TARP as of November 18, 2010. CBO estimates that the cost to the federal government of the TARP's transactions (also referred to as the subsidy cost), including grants that have not been made yet for mortgage programs, will amount to $25 billion. That cost stems largely from assistance to American International Group (AIG), aid to the automotive industry, and grant programs aimed at avoiding foreclosures. Other transactions with financial institutions will, taken together, yield a net gain to the federal government, CBO estimates.

CBO's current estimate of the cost of the TARP's transactions is substantially less than the $66 billion estimate incorporated in the agency's latest baseline budget projections (issued in August 2010) and the $109 billion estimate shown in the agency's previous report on the TARP (issued in March 2010). The reduction in estimated cost over the course of this year stems from several developments: additional repurchases of preferred stock by recipients of TARP funds; a lower estimated cost for assistance to AIG and to the automotive industry; lower expected participation in mortgage programs; and the elimination of the opportunity to use TARP funds for new purposes (because of the passage of time and the provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, P.L. 111-203). CBO's current estimate is also well below OMB's latest estimate, $113 billion, because the market value of assets held by the government has increased and several recipients of TARP funds — most notably General Motors and AIG — have significantly restructured the Treasury’s investment since May 31, 2010, the date used as the basis for OMB's analysis.

Clearly, it was not apparent when the TARP was created two years ago that the cost would turn out to be this low. At that time, the U.S. financial system was in a precarious condition, and the transactions envisioned and ultimately undertaken through the TARP engendered substantial financial risk for the federal government. However, the cost has come out toward the low end of the range of possible outcomes anticipated when the program was launched. Because the financial system stabilized and then improved, the amount of funds used by the TARP was well below the $700 billion initially authorized, and the outcomes of most transactions made through the TARP were favorable for the federal government.


  1. Thanks Bucko, one of the better assessments of TARP. I was completely against the plan in the beginning. I am still hoping it was a good idea that I did not understand.

    The one thing I have admitted,since getting OLD, is that it takes a great mind to understand our economy, it is just to humungous with so many variables, for the average human to comprehend. So I am hoping the smart folks in charge know what the heck they are doing.

  2. It's starting to look like TARP has been moderately successful. For example, I never thought thte auto industry would rebound the way it has.

  3. There will be plenty that ignore this, rather than applauding what seems to be a success.

  4. Why? Why? Why is this not on the front page of every Sunday newspaper?


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