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Bond Insurers Beg for Piece of Bailout Action


A sure sign that race for government money out of control.

The race to be included in the government's $700 billion financial bailout plan is starting to get a little absurd.

First, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson offered to buy up mortgage-backed securities rotting away on the balance sheets of our biggest banks. When it became clear more immediate action was needed, he forced Bank of America (BAC), Citigroup (C), Wells Fargo (WFC), Goldman Sachs (GS) and other big lenders to accept $125 billion in fresh capital.

Then, as the financial crisis deepened, MetLife (MET), Prudential (PRU), Hartford Financial (HIG) and other big insurance companies were rumored to be lining up for the government dole.

Next came General Motors (GM) and Chrysler, who are begging for billions from Washington to complete their merger.

Now, bond insurers Ambac (ABK) and MBIA (MBI) are nuzzling up to the government spigot, scrambling for their piece of the protective TARP. The Wall Street Journal reports the 2 firms are even vying to be part of Treasury's plan to inject capital into troubled financial institutions.

Including the bond insurance industry in the bailout, Ambac and MBIA executives argue, would allow the firms to step in and insulate the rest of the financial industry from losses. Ambac called the potential impact "exponentially positive."

The mere thought of including these firms in the bailout, frankly, is nauseating.

Ambac and MBIA personified the abject inability to assess risk during the credit boom, handing out bond insurance like candy on Halloween. Only theirs were the pieces parents warn their kids about: Snickers a la razor blades.

Their guarantees on debt ranging from municipal bonds to collateralized debt obligations allowed investors to ignore credit risk, use obscene leverage and rake in profits while adding next to no true value to the economy. When the bonds went sour, the firms' tiny cash reserves paled in comparison to their oblgiations.

As a result, hospitals, cities and countless other innocent bystanders had to scramble earlier this year just to make payroll as debt costs skyrocketed.

The bond insurers already had their chance for a bailout. Thankfully, their pleas have thus far fallen on deaf ears - and they haven't gotten their grubby little paws on any taxpayer money.

With the government already considering a massive mortgage-guarantee program, bond insurers could be fearful their usefulness may have finally run its course.

And rightly so. It has.
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