For all the fury over Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's $700 billion emergency economic relief fund, it seems downright puny when compared to the running total of the government's response to the credit crisis.
According to CreditSights, a research firm in New York and London, the U.S. government has put itself on the hook for some $5 trillion, so far, in an attempt to arrest a collapse of the financial system.
The estimate includes many of the various solutions cooked up by Paulson and his counterparts Ben Bernanke at the Federal Reserve and Sheila Bair at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., as the credit crisis continues to plague banks and the broader markets.
The Fed has taken on much of that total, including lending a cumulative $1 trillion in overnight or short-term loans since March to primary dealers through its emergency discount window and making a cumulative $1.8 trillion available through its term auction facility, plus a series of short-term transactions it began making available twice a month in January. It should be noted that a portion of the funds lent in these programs has been repaid and that the totals represent what has been made available.
The Fed also took on tens of billions in debt, including $29 billion in debt of Bear Stearns, and made $60 billion of credit available to American International Group. It is also taking $22.5 billion of AIG's residential mortgage-backed securities holdings and putting them in a newly created special purpose vehicle, and doing the same for a $70 billion chunk of AIG's collateralized debt obligations portfolio. All totaled, another $181 billion.
The Treasury, in addition to the $700 billion raised in the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, agreed to guarantee money market funds against losses up to $50 billion, will inject $40 billion of capital into AIG and is backing the conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to the tune of $200 billion.
The FDIC, meanwhile, is guaranteeing $1.5 trillion of senior unsecured bank debt.
Not included in the total are the Fed's long-existing discount window lending to commercial banks, the mortgage modification plan announced by regulators on Tuesday, support for the Federal Home Loan Banks and a myriad of other programs.
Paulson and Bernanke have tried any number of ways to stop the free fall in housing prices and unfreeze the credit markets, with limited success. Rates that banks charge each other for three-month loans have dropped to 2.1 percent over the corresponding Treasury security, from their high of 4.8 percent in October. But lending is contracting as banks brace for rising credit costs and corporate borrowers hunker down.
The Treasury has turned its focus from attempting to buy troubled assets from banks, which was the original intent of the October Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, to injecting capital in the form of preferred equity stakes.
It started out with $125 billion worth of investments in eight major U.S. banks and has since expanded the program to an increasingly broad range of financial and nonfinancial companies. And with just $60 billion left of its initial $350 billion authorization under the emergency act, the Treasury faces a growing number of companies — including Detroit's automakers — begging for assistance.
David Hendler, an analyst at CreditSights, says it looks as if government is left holding the bag, and of course that translates into everyone.
"The losses have to be taken, but no one wants to take them," Hendler said at a conference Wednesday, speaking about the banks and their handling of troubled assets. "It seems like the taxpayers are going to be taking a good portion of that."
© 2012 Forbes.com