The stories are pouring in. Here's another good one:
Chris Whalen provides some excellent commentary on the Goldman Sachs fraud inquiry by the SEC at the beginning of his weekly newsletter, The Institutional Risk Analyst.
In addition to the information he provides about other deals, including those that specifically targeted AIG, he puts an interesting twist on this. He intimates that at times the Hedge Funds were acting in concert with the Big Banks as off-balance-sheet accomplices in crafting these complex frauds. And the Paulson - Goldman scandal may only be one of a type, and not perhaps the best or most flagrant example.
A reaction from many is that this is just the tip of the iceberg, a single point in a much larger picture of calculated fraud involving many more deals and significantly more money up to and including the bailout of AIG.
It is not enough to throw a few token fines on some selective deals, and then dismiss them as outliers, and then suggest we 'move on' to reform the market. The spin will be that what Goldman did was 'legal' but immoral. And for many today, morality is simply a matter of taste. And Paulson will be served up as the fall guy. It will take a serious investigation to uncover all the facts, and make the case stick. And the SEC is not competent to do this, for a variety of reasons.
And the reforms that the Congress will create as a result of this, at the least the ones permitted by Jamie and Lloyd, will quickly be circumvented with new fraudulent devices and it will quickly be business as usual. Its hard to say that the business has never stopped, even now. The Big Banks continue to manipulate markets and abuse derivatives as instruments of financial fraud.
Whereas in the trades with Paulson GS was helping a client create and then sell short a CDO that was being sold to another client, in the case of TCW the GS firm was helping a client buy toxic loans to be contributed to a CDO in the knowledge that doing so would cause losses to a regulated insurer, AIG. The activities of GS to harm AIG make the subsequent payments by AIG to GS, using money from the US Treasury, seem all the more outrageous.
But for us, the bottom line is that hedge funds often times are merely extensions of the dealers with which they interact. It is often difficult if not impossible to tell where the dealer's interests end and those of the hedge fund begin, especially when the dealer and the fund seem to be working in concert to create securities that are being sold to third parties. This episode is a terrible mess and, to us at least, illustrates why the OTC markets for securities and derivatives need to be regulated out of existence -- or at least into compliance with norms of disclosure and fair dealing that would render such strategies impossible. If the global financial markets have been reduced to nothing more than beggar thy neighbor, then we all have a big problem.
Read the rest of this very good article here
And what about reform? Will it be just another whitewash full of loopholes, essentially written by the very companies it purports to regulate?
From Matt Taibbi:
Friend Nomi Prins, who in a former life worked for Goldman, this weekend sent along a link to an article in which she outlines the gaps in the current version of the financial regulatory reform bill. Given that the bill is sometimes being pitched as the answer to some of the problems underlined by the Goldman case, it’s a very sobering read.
My favorite is the halting, incomplete attempt at a rollback of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, i.e. the pseudo-restoration of the Glass-Steagall Act known as the Volcker rule. Nomi writes:
2) It won’t reduce the economic danger from rampant, overleveraged trading activities. The bill would restrict certain banks from having proprietary trading operations (trading with their own capital) under the “Volcker rule,” but it’s full of problematic exemptions:
a) Banks that claim they trade on behalf of their customers (which they all say they do) escape the rule.
b) Banks that trade for “market-making” purposes (i.e. Goldman Sachs betting against its own clients) are home-free.
c) Banks aren’t required to itemize their trading operations to regulators, so they get to decide what they consider trading for their customers and what they consider proprietary. I wonder how that will work out.
Then of course there’s the treatment of hedge funds, also relevant given the business with John Paulson:
5) It won’t contain the risk to the shadow banking system from hedge funds, private equity firms and venture capital funds. Venture capital and private equity advisers still won’t have to register or report to the SEC, though hedge funds with over $100 million in assets will. There’s also no statutory definition of what actually constitutes a hedge fund, and the bill doesn’t close the tax loophole that allows fund managers to be taxed at the lower capital-gains tax rate of 15 percent, rather than the higher income tax rate of 34 percent. If it sounds crazy to you that the richest people in America are being taxed at the lowest rates, it is: the loophole cost taxpayers about $5 billion this year alone.
Read the full story here