WASHINGTON &MDASH; Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is expected to outline the administration's financial rescue plans in a speech early next week, but sources said several issues remain unresolved.
The secretary's speech is designed to offer the broad framework of a foreclosure mitigation plan and an asset purchase plan. Reports have circulated for weeks that the administration is close to proposing a plan to create a bad bank to buy assets or offer insurance guarantees on certain toxic assets — or both.
But the Obama administration is still struggling with key issues, including how to price assets, the plans' accounting ramifications, and the overall cost of using a bad-bank model.
The delay in an announcement makes plain "how difficult these issues are," said Wayne Abernathy, executive director of financial institutions policy and regulatory affairs at the American Bankers Association, "and they turn out to be tougher than they appear at first glance."
Though the administration is still working on the plan, it appears in a state of flux, generating conflicting reports about its contents. For example, some reports said Treasury would institute tough new executive compensation restrictions while others said the administration would not.
A date and time for the speech have not been announced, but Mr. Geithner is scheduled to appear in front of the Senate Banking Committee on Feb. 10, where lawmakers are expected to grill him on the issue.
Industry sources said the final plan is likely to be a hybrid of a bad-bank plan combined with a government guarantee of potential losses on the bad assets, similar to assistance provided to Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp.
"The government needs to do something that is bold and broad-based," said Gil Schwartz, a partner in Schwartz & Ballen LLP, "so guarantees and asset purchases together provide a lot more punch than a simple guarantee or asset program."
But sources said disagreement remains among regulators on the best approach. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair and National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers are pushing a bad-bank model, but Comptroller of the Currency John Dugan and Mr. Geithner are said to favor the guarantee approach. Mr. Geithner has been meeting regularly with Ms. Bair, Mr. Dugan, and Mr. Bernanke, including a meeting Monday, the sources said.
Among other issues, regulators have not settled on the best way to price assets — a key stumbling block that caused the Bush administration to abandon its plan to buy bad assets. Adopting the guarantee method avoids that problem but leaves bad assets on banks' books. A bad-bank model, meanwhile, raises accounting issues, including how to account for the sale of poor assets to the bad bank.