The lifeline extended by Carl Icahn to CIT on Friday may as well be a noose around the neck of taxpayers.
The company said Friday that Icahn to support its prepackaged bankruptcy plan. Icahn, who wanted to push CIT into liquidation, had attempted to persuade other bondholders to derail CIT’s restructuring plan. When that attempt failed, Icahn agreed to support the prepack.
The company received $2.3 billion in taxpayer support under TARP. In exchange, the government got preferred securities and warrants for common stock.
Under the bankruptcy plan, which may be filed as early as this weekend, senior bondholders would take a 30 cent haircut on their debt, which will also have its maturity pushed out into the future. The senior bond holders will also get 92.5% of the equity in the company. Junior bondholders will get seriously crunched down the capital structure: the debt will be converted to the remaining 7.5% of the equity.
Current equity holders, including the US taxpayer, will be wiped out.
Why did the US taxpayers wind up in a riskier part of the capital structure than billionaire investors like Icahn? Because the US Treasury insisted on “rescuing” financial firms without forcing the existing creditors to accept equity for debt swaps, which would have recapitalized the companies while keeping the taxpayer money in a safer senior position.
CIT was repeated turned down this summer when it sought additional bailout money. This is to the credit of Tim Geithner and the Obama administration, which must have been at least tempted to extend government aid to a company that lends to so many small and medium sized businesses. But this is a cold comfort to taxpayers looking at a $2.3 billion loss: it could have been worse.
With $71 billion in assets, CIT will be the fifth-largest bankruptcy filing in U.S. history, trailing only those of Lehman Brothers, Washington Mutual, Worldcom and General Motors. But apparently the Treasury has decided financial system can survive the CIT bankruptcy. Which raises the question: why did they get any bailout at all?