Wednesday, May 13, 2009

* No Such Thing As Free (TARP) Money

Several banks have learned the hard way that when you get the U.S. government's money, even in the form of a loan, as a bonus you get the government's "help" running your business.  Needless to say, this is not very appealing to most businesses. Looking at the country's deficit, the government doesn't specialize in running anything in the black. So what's a company to do when they realize they're in a bad relationship?

Kelly King, Chairman and CEO of BB&T (BBT), a large U.S. regional bank and vocal critic of the government's bank bailout plan, described its participation in the TARP program as "destructive." King went on to say “Our plan is to repay the TARP funds as soon as it is humanly possible. It creates excessive controls, it has a negative impact on our people and our strategies and it runs a great risk of politicizing the lending process, which is very unhealthy.”

On May 11th, BBT announced that it would sell $1.5 billion of stock and reduce its dividend by 68 percent so that it can repay a $3.1 billion investment. Goldman Sachs & Co (GS), JPMorgan (JPM) and Morgan Stanley (MS) are arranging the stock offering.

Having previously increased its dividend for 37 consecutive years, this is a tough pill for a once-proud Dividend Aristocrat to swallow.  King said the decision marked "the worst day in my 37-year career," and pledged to increase the payout when he can.  Like most dividend cutters, BBT's shares plummeted falling over 7.5% on the day of the announcement and another 7.5% on the following day.

BBT wasn't the only one running from the government's "help". Two other large U.S. banks that passed the government's "stress test" announced stock offerings on Monday to raise capital in order to repay their TARP debt.  U.S. Bancorp (USB), the parent company of U.S. Bank, said Monday that it has launched a $2.5 million public offering of its common stock and Capital One Financial Corp. (COF) also announced a public offering of 56 million shares of its common stock.

As with all individual income stocks that cut their dividends, I immediately sold my entire position in BBT after reading the announcement.
Full Disclosure: No position in the aforementioned stocksSee a list of all my income holdings here.

Tags: [BBT] [COF] [GS] [JPM] [MS] [USB]