A revisit to the business risk of TARP

April 7, 2009 by Guest Contributor

By: Tom Hannagan

Beyond the financial risk management considerations related to a bank’s capital, which would be directly impacted by Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) participation, it should be clear that TARP also involves business (or strategic) risk. We have spoken in the past of several major categories of risk: credit risk, market risk, operational risk and business risk. Business risk includes a variety of risks associated with the outcomes from strategic decision making, corporate governance considerations, executive behavior (for better or worse), management succession events (Apple and Steve Jobs, for instance) or other leadership occurrences that may affect the performance and financial viability of the business.

Aside from the monetary impact on the bank’s capital position, TARP involves a new capital securities owner being in the mix. And, with a roughly 20 percent infusion of added tier one capital, we are almost always talking about a very large, new owner relative to existing shareholders. The United States Department of the Treasury is the investor or holder of the newly issued preferred stock and warrants. The Treasury Department says it does not seek voting rights, but none-the-less has gotten them in at least some cases. The real “kicker” is embedded in the Treasury’s Securities Purchase Agreement – Standard Form.

The most interesting clause, that appears to represent a very open-ended business risk to management decision making, is one relatively small paragraph, named Amendment, in the middle of Article V – Miscellaneous, just ahead of governing law (which is federal law, backed up by the laws of the State of New York).

Amendment begins normally enough, requiring the usual signed agreement of each party, but then states: “provided that the Investor may unilaterally amend any provision of this Agreement to the extent required to comply with any changes after the Signing Date in applicable federal statutes.” Wow. My reading of this is that if in the future Congress enacts anything that Treasury finds applicable to any aspect of the previously signed TARP Agreement, the bank is bound to go along. Regardless of whether the Treasury negotiates any voting rights, once the TARP Agreement is executed by the bank, management is not only bound by what is in the document to begin with, it is subject to future federal law as long as the TARP shares are held by the government. As a result, many banks have said no thank you to TARP.

At least four banks have recently paid back $340 million to repurchase the government’s shares. And, apparently another bank has offered to pay back $1 billion but, according to Andrew Napolitano at Fox Business Channel, the offer was turned down and the bank was threatened with adverse consequences if it persisted in its attempt to get out.

More pointed and public, and much larger in size, is the dance taking place now between Chrysler Corporation, Fiat, the UAW, four lead lenders and, you guessed it, the federal government. The secured loans in question total almost $7 billion and the government wants J.P. Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Citicorp and Morgan Stanley to exchange $5 billion of the loans for Chrysler stock. The banks know they would do better (for their shareholders) by selling off Chryslers assets. This is an example of why bankruptcy exists. The stakes are large and so is the business risk of the influence from the government. It will be interesting to see how things turn out.

So, this new major owner does have a voice. If Congress wants certain lending volumes or terms, or they want certain compensation levels, it needs to be enacted into federal law. Short of having to pass a law, there is the implied threat of the big stick in the TARP agreement. The Purchase Agreement covers what the new owner wants now and may decide it wants in the future. This a form of strategic business risk that comes with accepting the capital infusion from this particular source.