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TARP funds are unlikely to be fully repaid, program's watchdog says

It's 'extremely unlikely' that taxpayers will see a full return on their investment, Neil Barofsky, special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, tells the Senate Banking Committee.

September 25, 2009|Alexander C. Hart

WASHINGTON — The Treasury is unlikely to get back the full amount of money lent under the Troubled Asset Relief Program despite a recent spate of repayments from large banks, warned the program's watchdog.

The program "played a significant role" in rescuing the financial system from a meltdown, Neil Barofsky, special inspector general for TARP, testified before the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday. But it was "extremely unlikely that the taxpayer will see a full return on its TARP investment," according to his prepared testimony.

Losing some money was almost inevitable, said William Goetzmann, a finance professor at the Yale School of Management.

"The intent of TARP investment was not that it was a great investment for the U.S. taxpayer," Goetzmann said. "The intent was to save the U.S. financial system, and that was going to cost some money."

He said he expected to see differences in repayment emerge among banks of different sizes. Larger banks such as Goldman Sachs, which returned $10 billion in TARP money in July, are all likely to pay back the money fairly soon, but Goetzmann warned that many smaller banks may end up defaulting on their obligations.

When interest and other payments are added in, Goldman Sachs' TARP loan netted the government a 23% annualized return on its investment.

Barofsky cautioned that massive returns were the exception, not the norm, noting that TARP included a $50-billion foreclosure prevention program that would yield "no direct return" for taxpayers.

Congress launched TARP last October as a way to stabilize the economy by removing so-called toxic assets from the balance sheets of banks.

The program, which was controversial from its inception, is scheduled to expire in December, though Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner can extend it through next October.

More than three dozen Senate Republicans and one Democrat recently asked him in a letter not to continue the program.

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alex.hart@latimes.com

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