Specialist in Financial Economics
The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) was created by the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (EESA; P.L. 110-343) in October 2008. EESA was enacted to address an ongoing financial crisis that reached near-panic proportions in September 2008. The act granted the Secretary of the Treasury authority to either purchase or insure up to $700 billion in troubled assets owned by financial institutions. This authority was granted for up to two years from the date of enactment and was very broad. In particular, the definitions of both “troubled asset” and “financial institution” allowed the Secretary wide leeway in deciding what assets might be purchased or guaranteed and what might qualify as a financial firm.
The financial crisis grew out of an unprecedented housing boom that turned into a housing bust. Much of the lending for housing during the boom was based on asset-backed securities, which used the repayment of housing loans as the basis for repaying these securities. As housing prices fell and mortgage defaults increased, these securities became illiquid and fell sharply in value, causing capital losses for financial firms. Uncertainty about future losses reduced many firms access to private liquidity, with the loss in liquidity being in some cases catastrophic. September 2008 saw the government takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, and the near collapse of AIG, which was saved only by an $85 billion loan from the Federal Reserve. There was widespread lack of trust in the financial markets as participants were unsure which firms might be holding so-called toxic assets that might now be worth much less than previously estimated, and thus might be unreliable counterparties in financial transactions. This prevented firms from accessing credit markets to meet their liquidity needs.
As EESA moved through Congress, most attention was focused on the idea of the government purchasing mortgage-related toxic assets, thus alleviating the widespread uncertainty and suspicion by cleaning up bank balance sheets. The initial TARP Capital Purchase Program, however, directly added capital onto banks’ balance sheets through preferred share purchases, rather than removing assets that had become liabilities through purchasing mortgage-related assets. Several other TARP programs followed, including an asset guarantee program; programs designed to spur consumer and business lending; financial support for companies such as AIG, GM, and Chrysler; and programs to aid homeowners at risk of foreclosure. Eventually, the Public-Private Investment Program resulted in the purchase of some mortgage-related assets from banks, but this has remained a relatively small part of TARP. Most of the TARP programs are now closed, with no additional disbursements expected.
With the immediate crisis subsiding through 2009, congressional attention in financial services turned largely to consideration of broad regulatory changes. The resulting Dodd-Frank Act (P.L. 111-203) amended the TARP authority, including (1) reduction of the overall amount to $475 billion; (2) removal of the ability to reuse TARP funds that had been repaid; and (3) removal of the authority to create new TARP programs or initiatives. The original TARP authority to purchase new assets or enter into new contracts expired on October 3, 2010. Outlays under the existing contracts, however, may continue through the life of these contracts. Overall budget cost estimates for TARP have decreased significantly since the passage of EESA, with the latest Congressional Budget Office estimates foreseeing $19 billion in costs and the latest Administration estimates foreseeing $64 billion in costs. Most of these costs are from aid to homeowners, the insurer AIG, and the automakers. The assistance to banks is generally showing a gain for the government. In the 112th Congress, several bills have been introduced to repeal all or part of TARP, including H.R. 189, H.R. 430, H.R. 839, S. 162 and S. 527.
Date of Report: May 13, 2011
Number of Pages: 30
Order Number: R41427
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