First, The Inquisitr blog pointed out that the Goldman Sachs building on 200 West Street still had lights on when the other buildings around it went dark during the storm. As Ken Shadford commented, "The fact that NYU hospital is dark but Goldman Sachs is well-lit is everything that's wrong with this country." Another commenter ruefully comments that Goldman Sachs "gets its power from an underground source: Hades."
Then we have Felix Salmon on Reuters drawing some symbolic parallels between Goldman preparing to protect itself against flooding by using sandbags and Goldman protecting itself in a financial crisis that it helped create. But Salmon is too kind: Goldman protected itself and became rich at the expense of others by carefully laying the entire groundwork for its ultimate predatory success that we have been carefully recording in this blog.
How Goldman Sachs protects itself from a hundred-year storm
By Felix Salmon - Reuters
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Or, to put it another way: when big tail events happen, the old models get broken, and you can’t rely on them any more. That’s true when it comes to building skyscrapers, and it’s also true when it comes to financial crises. In fact, it’s even more true when it comes to financial crises.
Hurricane Sandy is a known unknown: it’s approaching New York, and the only real question is how high the storm surge is going to get. It could be six feet, it could be nine feet, it could be 12 feet. Bank capital, by contrast, is something which disappears in a much less linear fashion. A bank’s capital is just the difference between two huge numbers: its assets, and its liabilities. Its liabilities are fixed; its assets are loans, and derivatives, and other financial instruments which can fluctuate in value dramatically, especially in a crisis. What’s more, assets which banks think of as being ultra-safe — “quadruple-A”-rated super-senior CDO tranches, for instance — turn out to be precisely the assets which implode in value when a crisis comes along, turning banks insolvent overnight.
And that’s just the solvency problem: the bigger issue is liquidity, in a world where banks roll over billions of dollars of debt every day. You can protect yourself as much as you like, but if your lenders for whatever reason stop rolling over your debts, you’re toast. Let’s say you needed to sell lots of US stock today, for instance. Well, thanks to Sandy, you can’t: the stock market is closed. When liquidity dries up, everybody, no matter how prepared they are, is affected, and either central banks manage to step in to save the day, or they don’t. No mere mortal, without a printing press, can hold out.
Financial crises are similar to storms: they require humility, not hubris. Being prepared can be helpful at the margin, but ultimately it doesn’t matter how good your liquidity management teams and risk ledgers and counterparty hedging operations are: if everybody else is blown over by forces beyond their control, then you will be too.
Read the whole piece here