"Geithner plan arithmetic
Leave on one side the question of whether the Geither plan is a good idea or not. One thing is clearly false in the way it’s being presented: administration officials keep saying that there’s no subsidy involved, that investors would share in the downside. That’s just wrong. Why? Because of the non-recourse loans, which reportedly will finance 85 percent of the asset purchases.
Let me offer a numerical example. Suppose that there’s an asset with an uncertain value: there’s an equal chance that it will be worth either 150 or 50. So the expected value is 100.
But suppose that I can buy this asset with a nonrecourse loan equal to 85 percent of the purchase price. How much would I be willing to pay for the asset?
The answer is, slightly over 130. Why? All I have to put up is 15 percent of the price — 19.5, if the asset costs 130. That’s the most I can lose. On the other hand, if the asset turns out to be worth 150, I gain 20. So it’s a good deal for me.
Notice that the government equity stake doesn’t matter — the calculation is the same whether private investors put up all or only part of the equity. It’s the loan that provides the subsidy.
And in this example it’s a large subsidy — 30 percent.
The only way to argue that the subsidy is small is to claim that there’s very little chance that assets purchased under the scheme will lose as much as 15 percent of their purchase price. Given what’s happened over the past 2 years, is that a reasonable assertion?
Update: Another way to say this is that by financing a large part of the purchase with a non-recourse loan, the government is in effect giving investors a put option to sweeten the deal."