The president indicated in his weekly address that it was good to see banks paying back their TARP obligations (with interest) but “not good enough.” He scolded as audacious those who say “that it’s somehow unfair, that because these firms have already returned what they borrowed directly, their obligation is fulfilled.”
Leaving aside questions of whether it’s fair to change terms after repayment, or whether banks should cover the shortfall caused by non-bank TARP recipients, there is still the question of likely effect. In his earlier post, Tom conceded “a certain intellectual appeal” in the proposed fee. Mike Moebs, principal at a Lake Bluff, Ill.-based financial services consultancy, said that “for all the wrong reasons” President Obama may be doing a good thing by taxing big banks. “If the big guys are beyond their economies of scale, why not use the price mechanism?” Moebs said.
“In Great Britain they’re taking the likes of the Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays and saying to Royal Bank of Scotland, you’ve got to get rid of 900 branches by the end of the first quarter of this year; Barclays, you have to get rid of 1,000 branches. That’s more of a hatchet-type of approach…but Obama is stepping in and saying, I’m not going to face those social and political consequences; I’m just going to tax you guys–and I’m not going to tax the small [banks]. So your prices for your services have got to go up, and the small guys [will] have a competitive advantage. Now, if you big guys don’t bring down your cost, the small guys are going to win.”
The tax could cause big banks “to reduce [their] long-term average cost of operation, which is what the economy of scale is, and get it back down [to where} the small guys [are],” Moebs said.
Meanwhile, the president discussed additional big-bank reforms today.