Bailout Bottom Line For Taxpayers: Mixed Returns The government may rake in multibillion-dollar profits when it sells shares in Citigroup. But like any investment, the $700 billion financial bailout was a wager, with losing bets as well as winners.
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Bailout Bottom Line For Taxpayers: Mixed Returns

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Bailout Bottom Line For Taxpayers: Mixed Returns

Bailout Bottom Line For Taxpayers: Mixed Returns

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

When the Treasury sunk billions into struggling Citigroup, it was at the time called a bailout. Today, we may have a new word for it: investment.

Taxpayers could see multibillion-dollar profits when the government sells its shares in Citigroup, and it won't be the first time Treasury makes money on TARP investments.

NPR's Tamara Keith checks back on various bailouts and gives us a scorecard on how taxpayers have fared.

TAMARA KEITH: When Congress passed the $700 billion bailout bill known as the TARP, a lot of us were probably thinking, well, there goes $700 billion. But like any investment, it was a wager. Sometimes you win.

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KEITH: Sometimes you lose.

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KEITH: At this point, Treasury has distributed less than $400 billion from TARP and the big banks have already rushed to return their money to get out from under the heightened federal scrutiny that came with the cash.

Karen Shaw Petrou is managing partner at Federal Financial Analytics.

Ms. KAREN SHAW PETROU (Managing Partner, Federal Financial Analytics): The bulk of the TARP money went with guns at their head, in often cases, to banks that didn't need it anyway. Most of that come back and all of it is coming back with interest.

KEITH: Of the big banks, the only one with warrants still outstanding is Citigroup, and this week Treasury announced a plan to sell all 7.7 billion shares of its Citi stock.

Professor DARRELL DUFFIE (Graduate School of Business, Stanford University): Well, just on the shares, we're going to make some money.

KEITH: Darrell Duffie is a professor of finance at Stanford University.

Prof. DUFFIE: We bought them for about a dollar less than the price at which we're going to sell them, more or less. So we're going to make money, maybe a few billion dollars.

KEITH: Or maybe close to $8 billion. All told, taxpayers stand to make a pretty nice return on these big bank investments.

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KEITH: So combine the money that's already been paid back with interest and dividends and other profits, and on net the TARP is currently down just $200 billion.

Here's where the winning streak turns to a slump: Most of that money was invested in AIG and the auto industry.

Brian Bethune, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight, says of the $80 billion invested in autos, taxpayers can only hope to see maybe half of it.

Dr. BRIAN BETHUNE (Director of Financial Economics, Global Insight): You put four quarters into the slot machine and you only get two quarters back. It's not a very good rate of return on the taxpayers' dollars.

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KEITH: But these potential losses pale in comparison to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage giants. They're not part of the TARP, but the price tag on their bailout is $126 billion and climbing.

Karen Shaw Petrou says there's another $200 billion of losses at the mortgage firms that haven't been accounted for yet. And beyond that...

Ms. PETROU: We can't really model how big the hole is. We just know it's huge.

KEITH: And she says it's entirely unclear if or how Fannie and Freddie will pay that money back.

Ms. PETROU: The bulk of it is gone forever. I don't see any way of getting it back. You may get a little bit of it back by how we restructure Fannie and Freddie and to the degree we can privatize pieces of it. Whomever buys those pieces will pay the U.S. Treasury for them, but it can't be on the magnitude of what's gone out the door.

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KEITH: And we haven't even gotten to the investments made by the Federal Reserve.

But Stanford's Darrell Duffie says you can't think of all this bailout money like you would a typical investment portfolio.

Prof. DUFFIE: Altogether, if you take a more - a broader point of view, this was a fantastic investment. We didn't invest that money like an ordinary stock market investor just to get those stock market returns.

KEITH: Duffie says the government put up hundreds of billions of dollars to save the economy, and he for one thinks it worked.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington.

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