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GAO: TARP Bailouts Are Going To Cost Taxpayers Billions

Although some Troubled Asset Relief Program investments have returned a profit to taxpayers, a new report says non-housing programs overall will likely cost taxpayers billions.

According to a report published by the Government Accountability Office on Tuesday, as of Sept. 30 the Department of the Treasury had exited four of the nine non-housing programs that were active, and was managing only $2.9 billion in the remaining programs, down from a peak of just over $450 billion.

Some programs, primarily those utilized by financial institutions, have yielded returns that exceed the original investment, while others, such as the auto industry bailout, have imposed costs on taxpayers. (RELATED: Bailed Out Bank Execs Charged With Stealing Million in TARP, CDFI Funds)

Part of the reason some programs have lost money, GAO says, is because the Treasury Department has multiple, sometimes conflicting, objectives for winding down TARP programs, and has no strict formula for balancing goals.

For example, while it strives to “maximize overall investment returns within competing constraints,” it also seeks to promote financial stability and market confidence while disposing of its investments as soon as practicable, which in some cases led the agency to divest its holdings even when “holding its shares longer could have meant realizing greater gains for the taxpayer.”

The largest non-housing program — and the most profitable — was the Capital Purchase Program, which “disbursed $204.9 billion to 707 financial institutions nationwide from October 2008 through December 2009.” With only $625 million in outstanding investments remaining, the Treasury Department estimates that CPP will post lifetime earnings of $16.1 billion by the time it is fully drawn down.

However, those profits are almost completely offset by the losses from a much smaller program providing capital assistance to the American Investment Group. In just over four years, taxpayers lost $15.2 billion on the AIG bailout, out of an initial investment of $67.8 billion.

Similarly, the Automotive Industry Financing Program, the second-largest non-housing TARP program, is expected to incur losses of $12.2 billion out of an initial investment of $79.7 billion. (RELATED: Government Sells Ally Financial Stock Bought Through TARP)

Overall, the Treasury Department projects that non-housing TARP programs will lose just over $4 billion by the time they are phased out.

In contrast to the winding down of non-housing programs, it is attempting to expand TARP-funded housing programs that are intended to prevent avoidable foreclosures by helping homeowners restructure their mortgages. (RELATED: Obama Administration: Huge Increase in Funds for Housing Loans)

Despite an awareness campaign fueled by $137 million worth of donated advertising, it had only disbursed about $13.7 billion (36 percent) of the $38.5 billion in TARP housing funds as of Sept. 30, and expects that participation will continue to decline in coming years.

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