Bank Tax

The Obama administration is proposing a tax on the largest banks, based on the amount of leverage they employ. The estimated annual amount of the tax is $10 billion a year. Goldman Sachs estimates that the largest banks made $250 billion last year before taxes and loan-loss provisions. Based on those numbers, the tax amounts to a manageable 2/10th of 1 percent.

Some banks have protested. The 2008 TARP law did require the White House to come up with some system to pay for any losses under the program but a government estimate of $120 billion in losses consists largely of losses in the automotive industry. Jamie Dimon, the CEO of J.P.Morgan says that banks shouldn’t have to pay for another industry’s losses.

That does seem unfair but Dimon overlooks the long term liability of credit default swaps that the government has assumed in the AIG bailout. The Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation estimates the net value of these swaps at $82B. Also overlooked is the full price that AIG paid banks like Goldman Sachs and Societe General on credit default swaps (CDS) totalling $62.1B. In the late part of 2008, many of these swap contracts were selling for as little as 25 cents on the dollar. Let’s conservatively estimate that AIG paid these banks $30B above market price.

Additionally, the Federal Reserve bought $1.45T in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage bonds, paying full price for bonds that had fallen 30 – 40% in value. Among these investors were the large investment banks, who took the money from the Fed and re-invested it in Treasury bonds. I have not been able to find estimates of this gift from the U.S. taxpayer but it must be at least $100B for the larger banks as a whole.

In short, the banks will be repaying taxpayers far less than they will have received from taxpayers.

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