TARP Payback & Darling's Bonus Tax

The recent news in New York has been positive for the institutional financial services sector. Two weeks ago Bank of America (BAC) surprised most analysts by announcing that they had worked out an agreement to pay back the $45B of TARP funds they needed to carry them through the Great Recession. Greg Curl, one of the internal candidates to take over from Ken Lewis as CEO, negotiated the arrangements with the government. Shortly after the announcement Bank of America sold new shares, which gave them the capital base they needed to pay back the Treasury. It is becoming clear that the government will get their desired return on the TARP funds, as they predicted. The Merrill Lynch acquisition by Bank of America is starting to look better each quarter as trading profits improve dramatically. Citigroup (C) and Wells Fargo (WFC) remain the two money center banks that have not yet repaid the TARP funds, but they are inching closer to an agreement each week.

I flew to London on Wednesday to spend time with our two U.K. subsidiaries, Global Custodian and The Trade. I found the overall mood to be positive and The City looking very festive for the holiday season. I was greeted, though, by headlines in the Financial Times that Chancellor Darling was imposing a new 50% tax on bankers bonuses to be paid by the institutions. Prime Minister Gordon Brown was able to quickly get the support of the French President Sarkozy, while the Germans demurred. It seems like we will have to live for a while with the idea of taxing an industry in recovery from the worst downturn since the Great Depression.

Finally, on the media side of the equation, Springer Science & Business Media was sold, not to a strategic buyer like Informa, who had been evaluating a deal, but to EQT, a Swedish private equity firm controlled by the Wallenberg family and GIC, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund. (Telegraph, 12/11/09) The sale was driven by Candover’s and Cinven’s need to exit this investment, with loans coming due next year. Derk Haank, a former colleague at Reed Elsevier and a very able publisher, will continue as CEO. This deal is another sign that the private equity media market is starting to emerge from a very slow ‘09, with leverage returning to the market.