05.15.09

Goldman and JP Morgan Poised to Pay Back Taxpayers—UPDATED

UPDATE: More than two weeks after it was first reported by The Daily Beast’s Charlie Gasparino, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase appear poised to receive approval to repay their Troubled Asset Relief Program loans. On Monday, The Federal Reserve outlined the process it would use to allow banks exit TARP, and both Goldman and JP Morgan—which raised additional capital, perhaps to address consumer loan issues brought up by the Daily Beast—confirmed that they plan to do so this month. Additionally, Morgan Stanley will now sell $2.2 billion worth of stock in an effort to follow suit.

UPDATE: More than two weeks after it was first reported by The Daily Beast’s Charlie Gasparino, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase appear poised to receive approval to repay their Troubled Asset Relief Program loans. On Monday, The Federal Reserve outlined the process it would use to allow banks exit TARP, and both Goldman and JP Morgan—which raised additional capital, perhaps to address consumer loan issues brought up by The Daily Beast—confirmed that they plan to do so this month. Additionally, Morgan Stanley will now sell $2.2 billion worth of stock in an effort to follow suit.

Wall Street may have another reason to hate Goldman Sachs: The venerable firm with contacts throughout the federal government looks as though it may be the first financial institution to be allowed to repay government bailout money, The Daily Beast has learned. Repaying its Troubled Aseet Relief Program loan would free Goldman from various restrictions, including those on the compensation of key executives.

The decision as to which banks would be given the green light from banking regulators, most notably the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department, could be made as early as next week, these people say. Goldman already has a tentative approval from the Treasury and is awaiting approval from the Federal Reserve, according to one person with knowledge of the matter.

JP Morgan feels comfortable they have convinced both the Treasury and Fed that they should be allowed to repay the money along with the first group of banks.

During the height of the financial crisis, the federal government handed out billions of dollars in aid to the big banks in an effort to boost capital levels depleted by bad real-estate loans and bonds. While the bailout money helped stabilized a spreading financial panic, it also led to massive government ownership of some of the nation's largest banks and controls on business practices and compensation.

As the financial crisis has abated, some banks, most notably Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, and Morgan Stanley have said they can now repay the money and get out from under federal control. The government must first approve the measure; last week it announced results of so-called stress tests to determine which banks have the most capital to withstand further erosion in business conditions. The government also announced two conditions to repay the money: The issuance of debt that is not backed by FDIC insurance and sufficient "tier one" capital levels. Tier one capital is the strongest capital in the market.

Based on the stress tests, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan were deemed to be among the strongest of the big banks; unlike Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, and Citigroup, both Goldman and JP Morgan were not required by regulators to raise capital levels. Since that time, officials at Goldman and JP Morgan have been pressuring regulators to allow them to repay the bailout money that was granted from TARP.

According to sources, Goldman appears to be furthest along in getting final approval to repay the $10 billion loan; JP Morgan would have to repay $25 billion. These people, speaking on the condition of anonymity, say one obstacle JP Morgan may be facing is that unlike Goldman, which recently converted from a securities firm into a more traditional bank, JP Morgan has been a commercial bank from the beginning and thus it has large exposure to credit-card debt and other consumer loans that may go sour depending on the length and breadth of the recession.

Another person close to the situation says people at JP Morgan feel comfortable they have convinced both the Treasury and Fed that they should be allowed to repay the money along with the first group of banks that will be allowed to do so; that announcement, these people say, could be made as early as next week.

The prospect of Goldman being able to repay the money before other banks, including JP Morgan, is already causing controversy on Wall Street, given Goldman’s long ties to various levels of the fedeal government's financial apparatus. Former Goldman CEOs Hank Paulson and Robert Rubin were Treasury secretaries under presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, respectively, and both helped shape major pieces of legislation affecting the financial industry. In the case of Rubin, he pushed for the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which allowed commercial banks to merge with investment banks and cleared the way for the creation of megabank Citigroup, where Rubin later went to work. Paulson was Treasury secretary during the dark days of the financial crisis in 2007 and 2008, and it was his idea to force the major banks to accept government bailout money in order to stabilize the financial system.

Goldman's influence doesn’t end there; former CEO Stephen Friedman was chairman of the New York Fed (he was recently forced to resign after admitting to purchasing shares of Goldman Sachs without Fed approval), and New York Fed President William Dudley is also a former Goldman partner. (Dudley succeeded Timothy Geithner after he was named Treasury secretary.) The New York Fed president performs one of the most important roles in the regulation of banks, and Dudley is a key player in the negotiations over which firms will be allowed to repay the TARP money and leave government oversight of compensation and other issues.

JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon has made no secret of his desire to repay the TARP money, and according to people close to JP Morgan, he's likely "to go batshit if Goldman is able to repay before he does."

Charles Gasparino is CNBC's On-Air Editor and appears as a daily member of CNBC's ensemble. He is a columnist for the Daily Beast and a frequent contributor to the New York Post, Forbes, and other publications. His forthcoming book about the financial crisis, The Sellout, is scheduled to be published later in 2009.