Unveiling what it is calling its "great fall inventory clearance sale," the agency responsible for cleaning up the nation's savings and loan crisis announced ambitious plans yesterday to sell $50 billion in assets by the end of the year.
Among the sales techniques to be used will be an international satellite auction of 71 major properties, "bulk sales" of mortgage securities and the use of 15 newly opened sales offices from King of Prussia, Pa., to Costa Mesa, Calif.
The Resolution Trust Corp. (RTC), the agency in charge of the cleanup, also said it will be turning to private industry to help in the task and that it will provide financing for sales with government funds.
The bulk of the items for sale will be mortgages on single-family homes to four-family homes and investment-grade government and corporate securities, generally considered the easiest items to sell from the $165.3 billion in assets that have accumulated in the government's portfolio as hundreds of failed thrifts have been taken over.
The agency said it also plans to auction 28 office buildings, 31 shopping centers, six hotels, three industrial warehouses, a health-care center, apartment complex and golf course.
If successful, the sales program would help the agency recover some of the cash already spent for the savings and loan cleanup and would make a dent in the liquidation of the inventory that the government is acquiring as it seizes failing thrifts. The agency's ability to sell assets at good prices will determine the ultimate cost of the cleanup for taxpayers.
"The bottom line is the better job we do, the less the taxpayer has to pay," said RTC Chairman L. William Seidman.
As large as the sales program would be, however, it still would leave the RTC with massive amounts of assets. The agency said that it would take another five to seven years to sell off many troubled commercial loans and pieces of real estate.
"There is a long way to go," Seidman said. "The government has never undertaken a sale of anything like this. ... This is the biggest cleanup in history by a factor of 10."
On Monday, Seidman told a congressional committee that the RTC would need another $50 billion to $60 billion in working capital to run the savings and loan institutions and assets it is seizing. Seidman said yesterday that in making his assessment Monday, he assumed the RTC sale would be successful.
As the S&L cleanup approaches its first anniversary, the Bush administration has stepped up its effort to deflect mounting criticism of its handling of the savings and loan mess.
Deputy Treasury Secretary John E. Robson told reporters yesterday that the government had protected 6 million accounts with an average of $10,000 in each account, and that the government had closed hundreds of institutions without causing panic in the financial system.
"When people are poring over the carcass looking for warts and bumps, they'll find a few," Robson said. He lamented that "this is a movie for which no Oscars will be awarded."
He also complained that "politics has infiltrated the whole process" and said, "My feeling about the finger wagging is that you don't have to hunt very far to find responsible parties in (a) the other party or (b) the other branch of government."
Seidman and his agency likely will be the focus of much of the public perception of the administration's success or failure, although Seidman has often been at odds with administration officials.
Earlier this year, Seidman spurred the RTC to speed up the "resolution" of thrifts already taken over by the government by stepping up the sale or transfer of deposits. The RTC disposed of 161 thrifts by the end of June, exceeding Seidman's goal.
Seidman said yesterday that the RTC plans to dispose of another 130 institutions by the end of the year.
But many private industry sources have criticized the program because the government is usually left holding more than half the assets from those institutions, and usually the worst ones: sour loans, junk bonds, and half-completed housing and office developments.
To speed the sale of its inventory and begin to recover money used in the cleanup, the RTC said it would adopt measures that private industry has been pushing for some time. The RTC will turn over $30 billion in property and loans to private firms for management and will rely on private firms to sell most of the assets. Those firms will receive incentives based on how high a price they can get for properties.
The RTC will finance up to 85 percent of the cost of real estate that is particularly difficult to sell. It will then try to sell the loans to private investors.
The satellite auction of real estate was scheduled for Nov. 15 in Dallas, although this is two months later than originally planned. The RTC apparently had difficulty in establishing clear titles to many of the properties it was trying to sell in the auction, a government official said.
Bidders in nine other U.S. cities and in London and Tokyo will be able to participate via satellite television hookup.
The properties will range from the Kings Crossing Golf Course & Club in Corpus Christi, Tex., to the opulent Western Savings Corporate Center in Phoenix.