Just because the Treasury Department abandoned its plan to use government funds to buy toxic assets doesn´t mean holders of the pesky things won´t get help from Washington. A private company, SecondMarket, is trying to revive trading in mortgage-backed securities and structured products related to them, and it has turned to a giant figure in banking regulation for help: former Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. chairman L. William Seidman.
Mr. Seidman has more experience dealing with undesirable assets than many on Wall Street whose careers began during the height of the structured credit boom. He was the first head of the Resolution Trust Corp., the agency created during the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s to help process $400 billion worth of thrift assets assets that nobody wanted.
Mr. Seidman is now on SecondMarket´s board of directors and will also be advising the company on its plans to "rapidly expand into new asset classes, including mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations," according to a press release.
The connection arose by chance. "What happened was I gave a speech...and one of the things that I said was that we need to get markets started in these areas so we can have valuations and liquidity," Mr. Seidman said. "And then I walked out and they had a booth there...I said that´s exactly what we need-I was delighted."
Mr. Seidman began working with the company a week ago and said a market for the illiquid assets could be up and running early next year. While it won´t be as big as the one that could have been created under the Treasury´s Troubled Asset Relief Program, Mr. Seidman said its goal is similar.
The method though, is slightly different. Instead of buying the troubled assets outright, SecondMarket is working from a list of around 2,000 companies to pair sellers with potential buyers.
"I wouldn´t say that it´s big enough to be an alternative to Tarp," Mr. Seidman said. "But it is trying to do the same thing and it is using the private market to get a market going for these illiquid assets."
Mr. Seidman said his RTC experience is coming in handy, but the situation this time is different. "In the case of the Resolution Trust we were essentially trying to get the private sector going in the commercial real estate area," he said. "We had to develop all different kinds of ways to attract buyers. We didn´t have to attract sellers since we got the assets from failed institutions."