The Journal Analyzes a Government “Gift”

The Wall Street Journal has a nifty bit of analysis this morning looking at how much money banks are saving by an indirect government subsidy.

Since the fall, the government has guaranteed $339 billion of new short-to-medium-term debt issued by many banks (and some non-banks, like General Electric). That program, one of several in the bailout alphabet soup, is called the Term Liquidity Guarantee Program. The WSJ’s Mark Gongloff finds that the TGLP will save banks $24 billion over the next three years.

There’s no question that the program helped salvage the financial system.

But the bonanza could be fresh ammunition to critics who say taxpayers are subsidizing runaway earnings — and bonuses that are on track to rebound sharply this year — at financial firms that are at least partly to blame for the financial crisis and recession. The lower corporate-financing costs will last until debt issued through the government program matures, typically two or three years.

Citigroup saved $600 million in the second quarter from this one government subsidy. That ought to help the bank, which is one-third owned by Uncle Sam (or will be very soon anyway), pay its top energy trader $100 million this year.

GE Capital, which isn’t even a bank (though it owns a small one), gets the biggest sack of cash of them all—$3.3 billion over three years. JPMorgan Chase will save $3.1 billion and Goldman Sachs will save $2.3 billion.

Gongloff gives a nice concrete example of how this all works:

On Nov. 25, Goldman issued $5 billion in debt maturing in June 2012. The debt has an annual interest rate of 3.25%. On the same day that the government-backed bonds were sold, outstanding Goldman debt maturing in September 2012 was yielding 8.51% in the open market.

Make no mistake about it, it is a subsidy. The government is taking on the risk of default here.

But at least the government is getting a little taste:

So far, the federal agency has collected about $6.9 billion in fees from companies using the program.

Nice work by the Journal.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.