Report on the Troubled Asset Relief Program

November 29, 2010

Today CBO released the fourth of its statutory reports on transactions undertaken as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP)—the program established in October 2008 to enable the Department of the Treasury to promote stability in financial markets through the purchase and guarantee of “troubled assets.” The report discusses CBO’s estimate of the costs of transactions completed, outstanding, and anticipated under the TARP as of November 18, 2010. The report also provides a comparison of CBO’s estimate with that published by the Office and Management and Budget (OMB) in October.

CBO estimates that the cost to the federal government of the TARP’s transactions (also referred to as the subsidy cost), including grants that have not been made yet for mortgage programs, will amount to $25 billion. That cost stems largely from assistance to American International Group (AIG), aid to the automotive industry, and grant programs aimed at avoiding mortgage foreclosures: CBO estimates a cost of $45 billion for providing those three types of assistance. Other transactions will, taken together, yield a net gain of $20 billion to the federal government, CBO estimates.

It was not apparent when the TARP was created two years ago that the costs would be this low. At that time, the financial system was in a precarious condition, and the transactions envisioned and ultimately undertaken through the TARP engendered substantial financial risk for the federal government. However, the cost has come out toward the low end of the range of possible outcomes anticipated when the program was launched. Because the financial system stabilized and then improved, the amount of funds used by the TARP was well below the $700 billion initially authorized, and the outcomes of most transactions made through the TARP were favorable for the federal government.

CBO’s current estimate of the cost—$25 billion—is substantially less than the $66 billion estimate incorporated in the agency’s latest baseline budget projections (issued in August 2010) and the $109 billion estimate shown in the agency’s previous report on the TARP (issued in March 2010).  The reduction in estimated cost over the course of this year stems from several developments:

  • Additional repurchases of preferred stock by recipients of TARP funds; 
  • A lower estimated cost for assistance to AIG and to the automotive industry; 
  • Lower expected participation in mortgage programs;
  • The elimination of the opportunity to use TARP funds for new purposes (because of the passage of time and the provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act). 

This report was prepared by Avi Lerner of CBO’s Budget Analysis Division.