BOSTON, USA - WANTED: Money managers to run a US$700 billion (S$994 billion) bailout of Wall Street by buying toxic debt.
Qualifications: Must understand the most esoteric corners of finance and have strong constitutions, in case losses mount.
This is the assignment some of the world's most prominent money managers will likely be lobbying hard to get over the next few days after the US government proposed the bailout to help clean up the nation's worst financial disaster since the Great Depression.
Asked to name the firms best-placed to snag the business, industry insiders and consultants first named Bill Gross's PIMCO and Lawrence Fink's BlackRock Inc - two of the country's biggest fixed-income specialists who managed to side-step much of the wreckage.
There are others, including foreign-owned banks, who could be tapped to run an operation that, if it uses the full US$700 billion available, would be four times the size of America's biggest mutual fund - the Growth Fund of America - and amount to roughly US$2,000 for every US citizen.
Money managers are likely jockeying hard for a slice of such a large account and the generous fees that would probably come with such a complex job, experts said.
'Considering the egos at these firms and the fees involved, they are going to want a piece of this,' said Geoff Bobroff, an independent fund industry consultant.
But the money managers will also be considering the risks of becoming potential whipping boys for politicians and taxpayers if there is even the slightest whiff of conflict of interest and sweetheart deals.
'These firms are clearly enormously conflicted. And many of them would benefit dramatically if this toxic gunk were taken out of the system and their portfolios could rise,' Mr Bobroff said.
Mind you, the task is a difficult one.
'The managers who will be selected clearly have to have an expertise in this area and understand not only the complexities of the market but, as importantly, how these instruments were structured and packaged,' said Rob Leary, chief executive officer at ING Investment Management.
It isn't going to be easy to get the purchase price right for bad assets that have been at the root of the credit crisis - assets that Wall Street's 'rocket scientist' bankers and traders have had difficulty in getting a read on over many months.
Pay too much and taxpayer losses will mount, too little and banks may fail and blame the bailout process.
The assignment will also include helping to decide when to sell the assets that have been bought - the government's big hope being that there could even be a profit eventually if markets for the assets stabilize. The managers will have to walk a fine line between being seen as dumping assets at fire sale prices or waiting to long to move.
US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has offered precious few details about how the assets will be purchased or who might handle the task, other than to say on Fox News on Sunday that he will rely on 'professional asset managers' and 'real experts' to help.
It is certain that Congress will raise questions about whether any money managers appointed could gain vital market information that could help them make money in the funds they run for their institutional or retail customers.
There will also be queries about any ties they have with investors whose aggressive sales of mortgage-related assets may have contributed to the crisis.
Treasury acknowledged the problem on Sunday when it put out a revised proposal that said it will take steps to manage potential conflicts of interest any outside firms may have.
Even in the face of conflicts, industry insiders said, independent fund managers have to be pulled in because government officials do not have the expertise - even if Mr Paulson were to borrow a few more people from Goldman Sachs , the Wall Street investment bank he ran before moving to Washington.
Already, a lot of fixed-income specialists are spending Sunday in the office, waiting for a possible message from Washington, several money managers and industry consultants said. These people said they expect a handful of managers to be tapped, with a decision as soon as the middle of the week.
Lawrence Fink, known as Wall Street's Mr Fix-It for being selected by the Federal Reserve to help manage Bear Stearns' portfolio as it was being bought by JP Morgan Chase , is expected to top the list of possible candidates for the job.
Mr Fink was one of the first people on Wall Street to package mortgage obligations and popularize the new product. His firm, BlackRock, which manages roughly US$1.4 trillion, largely avoided the toxic debt but has raised new funds to capitalize in distressed markets and is owned, in part, by Merrill Lynch , which had loaded up on the bad debt and agreed to be taken over by Bank of America .
A BlackRock spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter on Sunday.
Mr Gross, long considered the world's most influential bond investor, told CNBC television last week that PIMCO would be interested in managing the pool of assets acquired by the government and expects to be called. His firm is also raising new money to take advantage of distressed debt markets.
A top PIMCO executive declined to comment over the weekend.
Additionally, insiders speculate that Jeffrey Gundlach, chief investment officer for TCW; Dan Fuss, star manager at Loomis Sayles; Legg Mason Inc's bond unit Western Asset Management; and Deutsche Bank , Goldman Sachs and ING might also be considered.
But as Asian markets were set to open, no decisions had been reached and most money managers were left to guess.
'The short answer is we don't know yet,' ING's Mr Leary said.