Well, for all the apologists for and supporters of Goldman Sachs's fiduciary role, here is information to the contrary from a press release at Senator Carl Levin's blog found here. Levin and his committee investigated the causes of the financial crisis for two years. The only surprising result of the investigation is that no one has yet been prosecuted and it appears that no one will be, not even at Goldman Sachs. More's the pity! (The red ink is mine.)
WASHINGTON – Concluding a two-year bipartisan investigation, Senator Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Senator Tom Coburn M.D., R-Okla., Chairman and Ranking Republican on the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, today released a 635-page final report (PDF, 6MB) on their inquiry into key causes of the financial crisis. The report catalogs conflicts of interest, heedless risk-taking and failures of federal oversight that helped push the country into the deepest recession since the Great Depression.
Links to the full report and the exhibits are available at the bottom of this page.
“Using emails, memos and other internal documents, this report tells the inside story of an economic assault that cost millions of Americans their jobs and homes, while wiping out investors, good businesses, and markets,” said Levin. “High risk lending, regulatory failures, inflated credit ratings, and Wall Street firms engaging in massive conflicts of interest, contaminated the U.S. financial system with toxic mortgages and undermined public trust in U.S. markets. Using their own words in documents subpoenaed by the Subcommittee, the report discloses how financial firms deliberately took advantage of their clients and investors, how credit rating agencies assigned AAA ratings to high risk securities, and how regulators sat on their hands instead of reining in the unsafe and unsound practices all around them. Rampant conflicts of interest are the threads that run through every chapter of this sordid story.”
“The free market has helped make America great, but it only functions when people deal with each other honestly and transparently. At the heart of the financial crisis were unresolved, and often undisclosed, conflicts of interest,” said Dr. Coburn. “Blame for this mess lies everywhere from federal regulators who cast a blind eye, Wall Street bankers who let greed run wild, and members of Congress who failed to provide oversight.”
The Levin-Coburn report expands on evidence gathered at four Subcommittee hearings in April 2010, examining four aspects of the crisis through detailed case studies: high-risk mortgage lending, using the case of Washington Mutual Bank, a $300 billion thrift that became the largest bank failure in U.S. history; regulatory inaction, focusing on the Office of Thrift Supervision’s failed oversight of Washington Mutual; inflated credit ratings that misled investors, examining the actions of the nation’s two largest credit rating agencies, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s; and the role played by investment banks, focusing primarily on Goldman Sachs, creating and selling structured finance products that foisted billions of dollars of losses on investors, while the bank itself profited from betting against the mortgage market.
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Investment Banks and Structured Finance. Investment banks reviewed by the Subcommittee assembled and sold billions of dollars in mortgage-related investments that flooded financial markets with high-risk assets. They charged $1 to $8 million in fees to construct, underwrite, and market a mortgage-backed security, and $5 to $10 million per CDO. New documents detail how Deutsche Bank helped assembled a $1.1 billion CDO known as Gemstone 7, stood by as it was filled it with low-quality assets that its top CDO trader referred to as “crap” and “pigs,” and rushed to sell it “before the market falls off a cliff.” Deutsche Bank lost $4.5 billion when the mortgage market collapsed, but would have lost even more if it had not cut its losses by selling CDOs like Gemstone. When Goldman Sachs realized the mortgage market was in decline, it took actions to profit from that decline at the expense of its clients. New documents detail how, in 2007, Goldman’s Structured Products Group twice amassed and profited from large net short positions in mortgage related securities. At the same time the firm was betting against the mortgage market as a whole, Goldman assembled and aggressively marketed to its clients poor quality CDOs that it actively bet against by taking large short positions in those transactions. New documents and information detail how Goldman recommended four CDOs, Hudson, Anderson, Timberwolf, and Abacus, to its clients without fully disclosing key information about those products, Goldman’s own market views, or its adverse economic interests. For example, in Hudson, Goldman told investors that its interests were “aligned” with theirs when, in fact, Goldman held 100% of the short side of the CDO and had adverse interests to the investors, and described Hudson’s assets were “sourced from the Street,” when in fact, Goldman had selected and priced the assets without any third party involvement. New documents also reveal that, at one point in May 2007, Goldman Sachs unsuccessfully tried to execute a “short squeeze” in the mortgage market so that Goldman could scoop up short positions at artificially depressed prices and profit as the mortgage market declined.
Recommendations. The Report offers 19 recommendations to address the conflicts of interest and abuses exposed in the Report. The recommendations advocate, for example, strong implementation of the new restrictions on proprietary trading and conflicts of interest; and action by the SEC to rank credit rating agencies according to the accuracy of their ratings. Other recommendations seek to advance low risk mortgages, greater transparency in the marketplace, and more protective capital, liquidity, and loss reserves.
For the full report and relevant exhibits, use the links below:
You can read the press release here