In Change of Approach, U.S. Adopts a European Rescue Strategy

Call it the First National Bank of Uncle Sam. Those who will be implementing the Bush administration’s new $250 billion initiative to stabilize the floundering financial system aren’t calling it bank nationalization, but perhaps that’s a distinction without much of a difference. Under a plan announced this morning by President Bush at the White House’s Rose Garden, the federal government will spend up to $125 billion to buy preferred shares in nine major U.S. banks: Bank of America Corp., Bank of New York Mellon Corp., Citigroup Inc., Goldman Sachs Group Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Merrill Lynch & Co., Morgan Stanley, State Street Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co. Some of the nine banks had to be pressured by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson (pictured) into assenting to the arrangement at a meeting yesterday, according to wire service reports. The administration reportedly wants some solid, healthy banks in on the program, if only to reduce the stigma that might be attached to it otherwise. The stock-purchase initiative, which theoretically has the potential to generate a profit for the federal government over the long term, represents a change in tactics, toward a more direct approach similar to the bank bailout efforts under way in the U.K. and continental Europe. The administration will be moving quickly on the new bailout. Treasury Department officials said that first purchases of bank stock, to total $125 billion, will begin within days. The other half of the $250 billion earmarked for this program is scheduled to be spent by year’s end. The Treasury Department yesterday chose Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, of New York, as the lead law firm to advise it on structuring the equity purchase portion of the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Heading Simpson Thacher’s team will be Lee Meyerson, head of the firm’s financial institutions group. Along with the $100 billion allocated for the purchase of troubled assets within the financial system, the $250 billion neatly accounts for half of the $700 billion originally approved under the federal rescue plan. It remains to be seen whether the administration will implement further specific plans for some of the remaining money, or will leave that for the next president to decide about. As part of the plan, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. announced a new three-year program under which it will provide, for a premium, insurance for loans between banks.