Will Repaying TARP Solve Bank of America's Problems?

The beleaguered firm is set to repay $45 billion in TARP funds, freeing it from the pay czar

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Late in the parade of rejuvenated firms freeing themselves from the government, the Bank of America announced its plan to repay its $45 billion of federal bailout money. This is a dramatic turnaround for Bank of America, which has gotten thrashed in the press for swallowing Merrill Lynch, for accepting two bailouts, and for its outgoing CEO Ken Lewis--who was recently forced to forgo a tremendous salary. So is Bank of America out of the woods, and may taxpayers celebrate the end of TARP?

  • End of Humiliation, CEO Problems? "At least four bigshot finance types," writes Adam Raymond over at Daily Intel, have "laughed in the bank's face" upon being asked to take over as Bank of America CEO upon Ken Lewis's departure. "The problem: because BofA accepted bailout money it is subject to government limits on executive pay, and limits on pay is not something executives are keen on." Problem solved--once the money is repaid, the bank will be free of this type of government intervention.
  • Upside, Downside Randall Forsyth says that "getting ... out from under the thumb of the government's pay czar" will also help Bank of America attract non-CEO talent. But "to get rid of Uncle Sam as a partner means raising equity capital[,] which invariably dilutes shareholders." Bank of America will seek to add more shares, and that's "bad news for [its] shareholders."
  • Payback Not Necessarily Immediate Truthdig's Kasia Anderson reminds readers that "it's not a foregone conclusion that the transaction will take place this month, even though the company has some built-in motivation to quickly make good on its payback promise."
  • Pressure on Citigroup 24/7 Wall St.'s Douglas McIntyre points out that this "modest vindication for [Bank of America's] retiring CEO Ken Lewis" will also "put pressure on Citi" to unveil its own plans for repayment. When Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and JP Morgan are all "TARP-free," or on their way, Citi's lack of "announcement before the end of the year [would] ... send a signal to Wall St. that the bank still has balance sheet problems that are much worse than those of its peers."
  • Populists Will Have to Shut Up "If you are a compensation critic from Main Street America," points out 24/7 Wall St.'s John Ogg, "the day after these funds are repaid" these extraordinary compensations will no longer be your concern.
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