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American Express Says Taxpayers Benefit From TARP

Forget your sorry-ass 401k plan. The hottest investment these days is lending money to illiquid financial firms. American Express today touted the 26 percent annualized return that U.S. taxpayers earned on money the company secured through the government's Capital Purchase Program. The credit card and travel services company made the announcement in connection with its repurchase of stock warrants it issued to the Treasury Department last fall in raising $3.3 billion.

What a deal, right? Last week Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein trumpeted the 23 percent return taxpayers earned on the billions of dollars the investment bank raised through the Troubled Asset Relief Program, saying the transaction "benefited the financial system, our firm and our shareholders."

OK, so some of these investments may not be all they're cracked up to be. And a number of ailing financial institutions, such as CIT Group and some smaller banks, that have borrowed government money may struggle to re-pay it. And, come to think of it, it's hard to know whether taxpayers are really getting fair value on their loans given that warrant prices are negotiated privately between banks and the government. Oh, and the federal panel that oversees TARP says that taxpayers are only getting 66 cents on the dollar for the money they've doled out.

Ah, hell. Wake me when it's over.

Image of Lloyd Blankfein courtesy of Flickr user Victorlezhepekov.