Tag Archives: Goldman Sachs

The People vs. Goldman Sachs

You may not want to read this if you have heart or problems with high blood pressure

Levin couldn’t believe what he was hearing. "Heck, yes, I was offended," he says. "Goldman’s CEO claimed the firm ‘didn’t have a massive short,’ when the opposite was true." First of all, in Goldman’s own internal memoranda, the bank calls its giant, $13 billion bet against mortgages "the big short." Second, by the time Sparks and Co. were unloading the Timberwolves of the world on their "unicorns" and "flying pigs" in the summer of 2007, Goldman’s mortgage department accounted for 54 percent of the bank’s risk. That means more than half of all the bank’s risk was wrapped up in its bet against the mortgage market — a "massive short" by any definition. Indeed, the bank was betting so much money on mortgages that its executives had become comically blasé about giant swings on a daily basis. When Goldman lost more than $100 million on August 8th, 2007, Montag circulated this e-mail: "So who lost the hundy?"

This month, after releasing his report, Levin sent all of this material to the Justice Department. His conclusion was simple. "In my judgment," he declared, "Goldman clearly misled their clients, and they misled the Congress." Goldman, unsurprisingly, disagreed: "Our testimony was truthful and accurate, and that applies to all of our testimony," said spokesman Michael DuVally. In a statement to Rolling Stone, Goldman insists that its behavior throughout the period covered in the Levin report was consistent with responsible business practice, and that its machinations in the mortgage market were simply an attempt to manage risk.

It wouldn’t be hard for federal or state prosecutors to use the Levin report to make a criminal case against Goldman. I ask Eliot Spitzer what he would do if he were still attorney general and he saw the Levin report. "Once the steam stopped coming out of my ears, I’d be dropping so many subpoenas," he says. "And I would parse every potential inconsistency between the testimony they gave to Congress and the facts as we now understand them."

I find it harder and harder to believe that no one has gone to jail or been held accountable for their actions in the sub-prime crisis.  No one.

Wall Street’s Bailout Hustle

Goldman Sachs and other big banks aren’t just pocketing the trillions we gave them to rescue the economy – they’re re-creating the conditions for another crash.  From Rolling Stone

Goldman Sachs Headquarters The bottom line is that banks like Goldman have learned absolutely nothing from the global economic meltdown. In fact, they’re back conniving and playing speculative long shots in force — only this time with the full financial support of the U.S. government. In the process, they’re rapidly re-creating the conditions for another crash, with the same actors once again playing the same crazy games of financial chicken with the same toxic assets as before.

That’s why this bonus business isn’t merely a matter of getting upset about whether or not Lloyd Blankfein buys himself one tropical island or two on his next birthday. The reality is that the post-bailout era in which Goldman thrived has turned out to be a chaotic frenzy of high-stakes con-artistry, with taxpayers and clients bilked out of billions using a dizzying array of old-school hustles that, but for their ponderous complexity, would have fit well in slick grifter movies like The Sting and Matchstick Men. There’s even a term in con-man lingo for what some of the banks are doing right now, with all their cosmetic gestures of scaling back bonuses and giving to charities. In the grifter world, calming down a mark so he doesn’t call the cops is known as the "Cool Off."

To appreciate how all of these (sometimes brilliant) schemes work is to understand the difference between earning money and taking scores, and to realize that the profits these banks are posting don’t so much represent national growth and recovery, but something closer to the losses one would report after a theft or a car crash. Many Americans instinctively understand this to be true — but, much like when your wife does it with your 300-pound plumber in the kids’ playroom, knowing it and actually watching the whole scene from start to finish are two very different things.

Frank Rich on Goldman Sachs

Frank Rich is taking on Goldman Sachs today in the New York Times.  It’s not his best written column but there are some parts that are essential reading.

It was hard not to think of Rockefeller’s old P.R. playbook while watching Goldman Sachs’s behavior when the Dow hit 10,000 last week. As leader of the Wall Street pack, Goldman declared surging profits, keeping it on track to dispense a record $23 billion in bonuses for 2009. But most Americans know all too well that only the intervention of billions of dollars in taxpayer bailout money saved Goldman from the dire fate of its less well-connected competitors. The growing ranks of under-and-unemployed Americans, meanwhile, are waiting with increasing desperation for a recovery of their own.

Goldman is this century’s octopus — almost literally so. The most-quoted sentence in financial journalism this year, by Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone, describes the company as a “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” That’s why Goldman’s chief executive, Lloyd Blankfein, recycled Rockefeller’s stunt last week: The announcement of Goldman’s spectacular third-quarter earnings ($3.19 billion) was paired with the news that the company was donating $200 million to its own foundation, which promotes education. In Goldman dollars, that largess is roughly comparable to the nickels John D. handed out to children a century ago. At least those kids could spend the spare change on candy.

Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting crusade ultimately broke up Standard Oil. Though Goldman did outlast three of its four major rival firms during last fall’s meltdown, it is not a monopoly. And there is one other significant way that our 21st-century vampire squid differs from Rockefeller’s 20th-century octopus. Americans knew what oil was, and they understood how Standard Oil’s manipulations directly affected their pocketbooks. Even now many Americans don’t know what Goldman’s products are or how it makes its money. The less we know, the easier it is for reckless gambling to return to capitalism’s casino, and for Washington to look the other way as a new financial bubble inflates.

Here is the money quote

The first stab at corrective legislation emerging from Barney Frank’s Financial Services Committee in the House is porous. While unregulated derivatives remain the biggest potential systemic threat to the world’s economy, Frank said that “the great majority” of businesses that use derivatives would not be covered under his committee’s much-amended bill. It’s also an open question whether the administration’s proposed consumer agency to protect Americans from mortgage and credit-card outrages will survive the banking lobby’s attempts to eviscerate it. As that bill stands now, more than 98 percent of America’s banks — mainly community banks, representing 20 percent of deposits — would be shielded from the new agency’s supervision.

If it’s too early to pronounce these embryonic efforts at financial reform a failure, it’s hard to muster great hope. As the economics commentator Jeff Madrick points out in The New York Review of Books, the American public is still owed “a clear account of the financial events of the last two years and of who, if anyone, is seriously to blame.” Without that, there will be neither the comprehensive policy framework nor the political will to change anything.

On of the links in the column go back to a Rolling Stone article about how Goldman Sachs has manipulated the markets over the years.

Then there is this article about how the markets sure look like they were manipulated to kill off Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers while the SEC hasn’t bothered even doing a thorough investigation.

On Tuesday, March 11th, 2008, somebody — nobody knows who — made one of the craziest bets Wall Street has ever seen. The mystery figure spent $1.7 million on a series of options, gambling that shares in the venerable investment bank Bear Stearns would lose more than half their value in nine days or less. It was madness — "like buying 1.7 million lottery tickets," according to one financial analyst.

But what’s even crazier is that the bet paid.

At the close of business that afternoon, Bear Stearns was trading at $62.97. At that point, whoever made the gamble owned the right to sell huge bundles of Bear stock, at $30 and $25, on or before March 20th. In order for the bet to pay, Bear would have to fall harder and faster than any Wall Street brokerage in history.

What a mess.

Things you can’t make up

Around 10% of the $700 billion dollar Wall-Street bailout is going to be bonuses for the same bank executives who managed to help destroy the global banking system in the first place.

Financial workers at Wall Street’s top banks are to receive pay deals worth more than $70bn (£40bn), a substantial proportion of which is expected to be paid in discretionary bonuses, for their work so far this year – despite plunging the global financial system into its worst crisis since the 1929 stock market crash, the Guardian has learned.

Staff at six banks including Goldman Sachs and Citigroup are in line to pick up the payouts despite being the beneficiaries of a $700bn bail-out from the US government that has already prompted criticism. The government’s cash has been poured in on the condition that excessive executive pay would be curbed.

Pay plans for bankers have been disclosed in recent corporate statements. Pressure on the US firms to review preparations for annual bonuses increased yesterday when Germany’s Deutsche Bank said many of its leading traders would join Josef Ackermann, its chief executive, in waiving millions of euros in annual payouts.

The sums that continue to be spent by Wall Street firms on payroll, payoffs and, most controversially, bonuses appear to bear no relation to the losses incurred by investors in the banks. Shares in Citigroup and Goldman Sachs have declined by more than 45% since the start of the year. Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley have fallen by more than 60%. JP MorganChase fell 6.4% and Lehman Brothers has collapsed.

At one point last week the Morgan Stanley $10.7bn pay pot for the year to date was greater than the entire stock market value of the business. In effect, staff, on receiving their remuneration, could club together and buy the bank.

So on one hand the banks come to the governments of the western world with hats in hand and ask for a massive, massive bailout and at the same time they want to continue giving out almost ten percent of it in bonuses.  Is it too much to ask to wait until a) you are profitable b) have paid back a sizable chunk of the money owed.  It is like AIG’s big corporate retreat a week after their bailout.  When this could cause millions to lose jobs over the next couple of years, it may be time to re-evaluate the optics of what you are doing and follow the Deutsche Bank’s lead.