Pressure Grows to Widen Bailout for Big Companies
The federal government faced mounting pressure on Monday to put billions more in some of America’s biggest banks, two of the biggest automakers and the biggest insurance company, despite the billions it has already committed to rescuing these ailing industries.
The government’s boldest rescue to date, its $150 billion commitment for the insurance giant American International Group, is foundering. AIG indicated on Monday it was now negotiating for tens of billions of dollars in additional assistance as losses have mounted across its many businesses.
Separately, the Obama administration confirmed it was in discussions to aid Citigroup, the recipient of $45 billion so far, that could raise the government’s stake in the banking company to as much as 40 percent.
The Treasury Department named a special adviser to work with General Motors and Chrysler, two of Detroit’s biggest automakers, which are seeking $22 billion on top of the $17 billion already granted to them.
All these companies’ burgeoning needs reflect just how hard it is to stanch the flow of losses as the economy deteriorates. Even though the government’s finances are being stretched and still more aid might be needed in the future it is being forced to fill the growing holes in the finances of these companies out of fear that the demise of an important company could set off a damaging chain reaction.
The deepening global downturn is dragging down all kinds of businesses, and, with no bottom to the recession in sight, investors sent the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index down 3.5 percent on Monday to its lowest close since April 1997.
In an unexpectedly assertive joint statement after two weeks of bank stock declines, the Treasury, the Federal Reserve and federal bank regulatory agencies announced that the government might demand a direct ownership stake in major banks that do not have enough capital to weather a deeper economic downturn. The government will begin conducting a test of the banks’ financial health this week.
Administration officials emphasized that nationalizing any of the major banks was their least favorite solution to the banking crisis, but they acknowledged that some banks may be both too big to fail and too fragile to endure another round of shocks without substantial government help.
The administration is debating how big a role to play in the auto businesses, what concessions the companies should make in return for aid and whether bankruptcy should be considered, though it prefers a private-sector solution. On Monday, Steven Rattner, co-founder of the private equity firm Quadrangle Group, was named an adviser to the Treasury on the restructuring the auto industry.
As the administration takes bigger stakes in companies, the value held by existing shareholders is being diluted, which could make it even harder to attract private money in the future. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner recently outlined a bank recovery plan that included a new program to attract a combination of public and private money to buy troubled mortgages and other assets burdening the banks.