U.S. Treasury Needs Less Bailout Bluster: TARP Monitor

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- It's time for the U.S. Treasury to stop bragging about bailout profits and look forward by protecting taxpayers from the risk of another bailout, according to a report released by a bank bailout watchdog.

In its quarterly report to Congress, the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Assets Relief Program, or TARP, said that "recently, Treasury appears to have shifted its emphasis from promoting financial stability to assessing returns on investment," like it did on Wednesday, after PrivateBancorp ( PVTB) fully redeemed $243.8 million in TARP preferred shares held by the government.

The Treasury said that "the overall positive return on TARP's bank programs now totals nearly $22 billion," and that out of a total of $245 billion in bailout money provided to banks, "TARP's bank programs and has now recovered nearly $267 billion to date through repayments, dividends, interest, and other income." The Treasury added some icing to the cake: "Going forward, each additional dollar recovered through TARP's bank programs represents an additional dollar of profit from those programs for taxpayers."

That's all well and good, but the TARP Inspector General -- known as "SIGTARP" -- said that "TARP was never about a simple return on investment. Treasury statements on financial stability largely relate to Treasury's view of TARP's contribution to restoring financial stability in the past." Looking ahead, SIGTARP said "it is imperative that Treasury bring back its primary focus to promoting financial stability for the long term."

One of the ways the Treasury can focus on financial stability and reduce the risk of another bailout is to consider American International Group ( AIG) as "systemically important," in order to "the strongest level of Federal regulation" for the insurer, SIGTARP said.

The Treasury provided $69.8 billion to AIG through April 2009, taking a preferred stake in the company, which it has been winding down, most recently selling $18 billion worth of AIG preferred shares in September.

SIGTARP said that "having had no banking regulator for years, AIG became regulated by the Federal Reserve as a savings and loan holding company last month when Treasury's ownership of AIG stock dropped below 50%." But with AIG CEO Robert Benmosche planning to sell AIG Bank, "there would once again be no banking regulator over AIG's financial business, which continues outside the bank," and that "taxpayers need to be protected against the potential impact of any future AIG financial distress on the broader economy based on AIG's size, as one of the largest insurance companies in the world, and interconnectedness."

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