Actions in the 2007–2008 subprime mortgage crisis
Despite the 2007 subprime mortgage crisis, Goldman was able to profit from the collapse in subprime mortgage bonds in the summer of 2007 by short-selling subprime mortgage-backed securities. Two Goldman traders, Michael Swenson and Josh Birnbaum, are credited with bearing responsibility for the firm's large profits during America's sub-prime mortgage crisis. The pair, who are part of Goldman's structured products group in New York, made a profit of $4 billion by "betting" on a collapse in the sub-prime market, and shorting mortgage-related securities. By summer of 2007, they persuaded colleagues to see their point of view and talked around skeptical risk management executives. The firm initially avoided large subprime writedowns, and achieved a net profit due to significant losses on non-prime securitized loans being offset by gains on short mortgage positions. Its sizable profits made during the initial subprime mortgage crisis led the New York Times to proclaim that Goldman Sachs is without peer in the world of finance. The firm's viability was later called into question as the crisis intensified in September 2008.
So let's reduce this macro story to human scale. Meet GSAMP Trust 2006-S3, a $494 million drop in the junk-mortgage bucket, part of the more than half-a-trillion dollars of mortgage-backed securities issued last year. We found this issue by asking mortgage mavens to pick the worst deal they knew of that had been floated by a top-tier firm – and this one's pretty bad.
It was sold by Goldman Sachs(Charts, Fortune 500) – GSAMP originally stood for Goldman Sachs Alternative Mortgage Products but now has become a name itself, like AT&T and 3M.
This issue, which is backed by ultra-risky second-mortgage loans, contains all the elements that facilitated the housing bubble and bust. It's got speculators searching for quick gains in hot housing markets; it's got loans that seem to have been made with little or no serious analysis by lenders; and finally, it's got Wall Street, which churned out mortgage "product" because buyers wanted it. As they say on the Street, "When the ducks quack, feed them."
On September 21, 2008, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, the last two major investment banks in the United States, both confirmed that they would become traditional bank holding companies, bringing an end to the era of investment banking on Wall Street. The Federal Reserve's approval of their bid to become banks ended the ascendancy of the securities firms, 75 years after Congress separated them from deposit-taking lenders, and capped weeks of chaos that sent Lehman Brothers into bankruptcy and led to the rushed sale of Merrill Lynch & Co. to Bank of America Corp.
According to a 2009 BrandAsset Valuator survey taken of 17,000 people nationwide, the firm's reputation suffered in 2008 and 2009, and rival Morgan Stanley was respected more than Goldman Sachs, a reversal of the sentiment in 2006. Goldman refused to comment on the findings.
Josh Birnbaum's "Prepared Remarks of Ex-Goldman Sachs Executive Joshua Birnbaum" for the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (April 27, 2010) can be found on Dealbook here.
Bruce Krasting's blog comments on Josh Birnbaum's testimony before the Senate Committee can be found here.
Josh Birnbaum's formation of a $1 Billion hedge fund can be found on Bloomberg's report here.
You can view the video on ZeroHedge here