No Academy for Geithner's vague rescue pitch
Tim Geithner? Didn't he star in those dud-of-all-times movies like Gigli and Glitter? No, wait, his performance as Treasury Secretary Tuesday introducing the new and improved "TARP" bank rescue plan just made me think he belonged in those wretched flicks. (Photos: Getty Images.)
Just when the nation -- and the stock markets, apparently -- so desperately needed clarity and a precise explanation of how the second half of the $700-billion TARP funds will be spent to better effect, what did we get? Lots of talk (here are his prepared remarks in full), little action and absolutely no insight into how the Obama administration will make things better than the Bush administration's efforts before it.
The Dow started freefalling even before Geithner finished his speech and by 3 pm, the market was down a stunning 366 points. U.S. banks -- the intended beneficiary of the additional $350-billion Geithner is preparing to dispense -- are watching their share values drop like rocks. SunTrust and Regions banks, for example, are down more than 25 percent so far today.
If that's not a Bronx cheer for the debut of our new Treasury Secretary, what is? Mike Mandel, chief economist of BusinessWeek magazine, in a video critique describes Geithner's delivery as "mushy." Mandel says he was "frankly disappointed" and was looking for something "less incremental." Even Geithner's body language while speaking lacked a sense of confidence.
Geithner said the government and regulators have been playing catch-up, and poorly, ever since the Wall Street crisis struck last fall. Tuesday's pitch did little to help. You can't BS the markets; they can smell it miles away. Even President Obama, joined by Florida Gov. Crist in Fort Myers on Tuesday, could not help the stock markets.
What really was missing? Confidence. When I finished listening to Geithner, I was not thinking -- Dang, we're in good hands now! -- but instead wondered: Is this $350-billion going to really do anything better than the first $350-billion?
There's still time to make a strong impression but now it will be an uphill battle for Treasury. We needed Shock and Awe. We got Shucks and Ah Gee Whiz.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist