Business, Economics and Jobs

Big banks bigger after bailout

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Some banks are paying back their part of the $700 billion in TARP loans -- with interest. But challenging questions remain. America's banks that were rescued as "too big to fail" are now bigger than ever.

Just four banks -- JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup -- now issue half America's mortgages and two-thirds of its credit cards, according to a recent article in the "Washington Post."

On "To the Point," David Cho, who wrote the article, explained that government intervention during the banking crisis helped bring this about.

"We had these mergers that were arranged by the government during the crisis. The government saw virtually no alternative than forcing ailing banks into the arms of the even bigger giants," said Cho. "They thought that if we let any of these banks fail, we could see a total collapse of the financial system.

"So a lot of these mergers were rushed, with the government heavily involved in them. In Wells Fargo and Wachovia's case for instance, Wells Fargo was given an additional five billion of bailout funds to help it swallow Wachovia which was on the verge of collapsing."

Cho believes this skews the market in favor of the big banks and leaves less options for consumers.

Daniel Gross, economic columnist for "Newsweek" and "Slate" doesn't think the big banks are the only ones benefiting, "There's a process where taxpayers and the federal government is also helping the smaller companies consolidate ... so the healthier, smaller regional banks -- they are picking up scale as well with the help of the government."

Felix Salmon, Finance blogger at Reuters agrees with Cho and doesn't think that small banks get the same kind of consideration by the government, and this gives the big banks "huge" advantages over small banks.

"What we're seeing here is not a question of the weakest and worst banks failing," said Salmon. "what we're seeing here is more banks failing and big banks being propped up artificially by the government with billions of dollars ... if you're a Bank of America or a Citigroup, you will have that for as long as you wanted; no small bank can say that.

"What you wind up then with is much bigger systemic risk going forward. As we've seen, the bigger the banks get, the more damage they can cause. What we really want in this country is the big banks to get smaller, and instead what is happening is that the big banks are getting bigger and that's incredibly dangerous from a systemic perspective."

Hosted by award-winning journalist Warren Olney, "To the Point" presents informative and thought-provoking discussion of major news stories — front-page issues that attract a savvy and serious news audience.

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