Posts Tagged ‘Bank of America

26
Apr
10

Goldman Sachs and “War Profiteering”

NEWS
Goldman Sachs and “War Profiteering”

Monday, April 26, 2010

Embattled Wall Street investment giant Goldman Sachs has hit back at claims it used the U.S. sub-prime mortgage crisis to make tens of millions of dollars in profit.

The financial giant, already facing fraud charges, found itself in the middle of a new firestorm on Saturday after emails released by a U.S. Senate panel suggested Goldman executives made huge profits out of the 2007 crisis.

Goldman fired back on Sunday, accusing the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of having ‘cherry-picked just four emails from the 20 million pages of documents and emails provided to it’.

‘It is concerning that the subcommittee seems to have reached its conclusion even before holding a hearing,’ added Goldman Sachs spokesman Lucas van Praag.

The emails come at a bad time for Goldmans Sachs.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced it was charging the company with fraud, accusing it of ‘defrauding investors by misstating and omitting key facts’ about a product based on subprime, or higher-risk mortgage-backed securities.

On Saturday, subcommittee chairman Democratic Senator Carl Levin said Goldman Sachs and other investment banks had acted as ‘self-interested promoters of risky and complicated financial schemes that helped trigger the crisis’.

He said the bank had bundled toxic mortgages into complex financial instruments, got credit rating agencies to label them as AAA securities, and then sold them to investors, magnifying and spreading risk throughout the financial system.

In addition, Levin said, the bank often bet against the instruments it sold and rolled in profits as a result.

Van Praag said on Sunday the company had net losses of over $1.2 billion in residential mortgage-related products in 2007 and 2008.

‘This demonstrates conclusively that we did not make a significant amount of money in the mortgage market,’ he said.

But the four emails released by the subcommittee suggest that the company was able to make massive profits by shorting products including residential mortgage-backed securities and collateralised debt obligations (CDOs).

In one email, Goldman Sachs chairman and chief executive officer Lloyd Blankfein appeared to gloat about the strategy in an exchange with other top Goldman executives.

‘Of course we didn’t dodge the mortgage mess. We lost money, then made more than we lost because of shorts,’ the message said.

In another, a Goldman Sachs manager noted that the firm had bet against 32 billion dollars in mortgage-related securities that had been downgraded by credit rating agencies, causing losses for many investors.

‘Sounds like we will make some serious money,’ the manager wrote.

‘Yes, we are well positioned,’ his colleague responded.

In a third email, Goldman employees discussed securities that were underwritten and sold by the company and tied to mortgages issued by Washington Mutual Bank’s subprime lender, Long Beach Mortgage.

One employee reported the ‘wipeout’ of one Long Beach security and the ‘imminent’ collapse of another as ‘bad news’ that would cost the firm $2.5 million.

The ‘good news,’ the employee wrote, was that Goldman had bet against the very securities it had assembled and sold, meaning the failure would net the company five million dollars.

Blankfein and other current and former company personnel are scheduled to testify before the subcommittee on Tuesday.

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24
Apr
10

Goldman Sachs e-mails show bank sought to profit from housing downturn

NEWS
Goldman Sachs e-mails show bank sought to profit from housing downturn

Saturday, April 24, 2010

In late 2007 as the mortgage crisis gained momentum and many banks were suffering losses, Goldman Sachs executives traded e-mail messages saying that they would make “some serious money” betting against the housing markets.

The e-mails, released Saturday morning by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, appear to contradict some of Goldman’s previous statements that left the impression that the firm lost money on mortgage-related investments.

In the e-mails, Lloyd C. Blankfein, the bank’s chief executive, acknowledged in November of 2007 that the firm indeed had lost money initially. But it later recovered from those losses by making negative bets, known as short positions, enabling it to profit as housing prices fell and homeowners defaulted on their mortgages. “Of course we didn’t dodge the mortgage mess,” he wrote. “We lost money, then made more than we lost because of shorts.”

In another message, dated July 25, 2007, David A. Viniar, Goldman’s chief financial officer, remarked on figures that showed the company had made a $51 million profit in a single day from bets that the value of mortgage-related securities would drop. “Tells you what might be happening to people who don’t have the big short,” he wrote to Gary D. Cohn, now Goldman’s president.

The messages were released Saturday ahead of a Congressional hearing on Tuesday in which seven current and former Goldman employees, including Mr. Blankfein, are expected to testify. The hearing follows a recent securities fraud complaint that the Securities and Exchange Commission filed against Goldman and one of its employees, Fabrice Tourre, who will also testify on Tuesday.

Actions taken by Wall Street firms during the housing meltdown have become a major factor in the contentious debate over financial reform. The first test of the administration’s overhaul effort will come Monday when the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, is to call a procedural vote to try to stop a Republican filibuster.

Republicans have contended that the renewed focus on Goldman stems from Democrats’ desire to use anger at Wall Street to push through a financial reform bill.

Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan and head of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, said that the e-mail messages contrast with Goldman’s public statements about its trading results. “The 2009 Goldman Sachs annual report stated that the firm ‘did not generate enormous net revenues by betting against residential related products,’?” Mr. Levin said in a statement Saturday when his office released the documents. “These e-mails show that, in fact, Goldman made a lot of money by betting against the mortgage market.”

A Goldman spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Goldman messages connect some of the dots at a crucial moment of Goldman history. They show that in 2007, as most other banks hemorrhaged losses from plummeting mortgage holdings, Goldman prospered.

At first, Goldman openly discussed its prescience in calling the housing downfall. In the third quarter of 2007, the investment bank reported publicly that it had made big profits on its negative bet on mortgages.

But by the end of that year, the firm curtailed disclosures about its mortgage trading results. Its chief financial officer told analysts at the end of 2007 that they should not expect Goldman to reveal whether it was long or short on the housing market. By late 2008, Goldman was emphasizing its losses, rather than its profits, pointing regularly to write-downs of $1.7 billion on mortgage assets and leaving out the amount it made on its negative bets.

Goldman and other firms often take positions on both sides of an investment. Some are long, which are bets that the investment will do well, and some are shorts, which are bets the investment will do poorly. If an investor’s positions are balanced – or hedged, in industry parlance – then the combination of the longs and shorts comes out to zero.

Goldman has said that it added shorts to balance its mortgage book, not to make a directional bet that the market would collapse. But the messages released Saturday appear to show that in 2007, at least, Goldman’s short bets were eclipsing the losses on its long positions. In May 2007, for instance, Goldman workers e-mailed one another about losses on a bundle of mortgages issued by Long Beach Mortgage Securities. Though the firm lost money on those, a worker wrote, there was “good news”: “we own 10 mm in protection.” That meant Goldman had enough of a bet against the bond that, over all, it profited by $5 million.

Documents released by the Senate committee appear to indicate that in July 2007, Goldman’s daily accounting showed losses of $322 million on positive mortgage positions, but its negative bet – what Mr. Viniar called “the big short” – came in $51 million higher.

As recently as a week ago, a Goldman spokesman emphasized that the firm had tried only to hedge its mortgage holdings in 2007 and said the firm had not been net short in that market.

The firm said in its annual report this month that it did not know back then where housing was headed, a sentiment expressed by Mr. Blankfein the last time he appeared before.

“We did not know at any minute what would happen next, even though there was a lot of writing,” he told the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission in January.

It is not known how much money in total Goldman made on its negative housing bets. Only a handful of e-mail messages were released Saturday, and they do not reflect the complete record.

The Senate subcommittee began its investigation in November 2008, but its work attracted little attention until a series of hearings in the last month. The first focused on lending practices at Washington Mutual, which collapsed in 2008, the largest bank failure in American history; another scrutinized deficiencies at several regulatory agencies, including the Office of Thrift Supervision and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

A third hearing, on Friday, centered on the role that the credit rating agencies – Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch – played in the financial crisis. At the end of the hearing, Mr. Levin offered a preview of the Goldman hearing scheduled for Tuesday.

“Our investigation has found that investment banks such as Goldman Sachs were not market makers helping clients,” Mr. Levin said, referring to testimony given by Mr. Blankfein in January. “They were self-interested promoters of risky and complicated financial schemes that were a major part of the 2008 crisis. They bundled toxic and dubious mortgages into complex financial instruments, got the credit-rating agencies to label them as AAA safe securities, sold them to investors, magnifying and spreading risk throughout the financial system, and all too often betting against the financial instruments that they sold, and profiting at the expense of their clients.”

The transaction at the center of the S.E.C.’s case against Goldman also came up at the hearings on Friday, when Mr. Levin discussed it with Eric Kolchinsky, a former managing director at Moody’s. The mortgage-related security was known as Abacus 2007-AC1, and while it was created by Goldman, the S.E.C. contends that the firm misled investors by not disclosing that it had allowed a hedge fund manager, John A. Paulson, to select mortgage bonds for the portfolio that would be most likely to fail. That charge is at the core of the civil suit it filed against Goldman.

Moody’s was hired by Goldman to rate the Abacus security. Mr. Levin asked Mr. Kolchinsky, who for most of 2007 oversaw the ratings of collateralized debt obligations backed by subprime mortgages, if he had known of Mr. Paulson’s involvement in the Abacus deal.

“I did not know, and I suspect – I’m fairly sure that my staff did not know either,” Mr. Kolchinsky said.

Mr. Levin asked whether details of Mr. Paulson’s involvement were “facts that you or your staff would have wanted to know before rating Abacus.” Mr. Kolchinsky replied: “Yes, that’s something that I would have personally wanted to know.”

Mr. Kolchinsky added: “It just changes the whole dynamic of the structure, where the person who’s putting it together, choosing it, wants it to blow up.”

The Senate announced that it would convene a hearing on Goldman Sachs within a week of the S.E.C.’s fraud suit. Some members of Congress questioned whether the two investigations had been coordinated or linked.

Mr. Levin’s staff said there was no connection between the two investigations. They pointed out that the subcommittee requested the appearance of the Goldman executives and employees well before the S.E.C. filed its case.

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17
Apr
10

Barack Obama defends new consumer agency

NEWS
Barack Obama defends new consumer agency

Saturday, April 17, 2010

President Barack Obama on Saturday challenged opponents of tougher U.S. financial regulations, saying the U.S. is doomed to repeat the economic crisis without new rules and that American taxpayers would again be stuck with the bill.

The bill is the next major piece of legislation that Obama wants to sign into law this year.

“Every day we don’t act, the same system that led to bailouts remains in place, with the exact same loopholes and the exact same liabilities,” Obama said in his weekly radio and internet address. “And if we don’t change what led to the crisis, we’ll doom ourselves to repeat it.

“Opposing reform will leave taxpayers on the hook if a crisis like this ever happens again,” the president said.

A proposal that Senate Democrats are readying for debate creates a mechanism for liquidating large firms to avoid a meltdown. The bill also would regulate the derivatives market for the first time, create a council to detect threats to the system and establish a new consumer protection agency to police people’s dealings with financial institutions.

On Friday, Obama promised to veto the bill if it doesn’t regulate the market for derivatives, instruments such as mortgage-backed securities that contributed to the nation’s economic problems after their value plummeted during the housing crisis.

But Democrats have yet to agree on how far such regulation should go, and all Senate Republicans are solidly against the bill. That opposition complicates Democratic efforts to get the 60 votes necessary to overcome likely Republican procedural roadblocks.

Republicans contend that a provision creating a $50 billion fund for dismantling banks considered “too big to fail” would continue government bailouts of Wall Street. Obama administration officials say such a fund is unnecessary and they want Senate Democrats to remove it.

Obama criticised financial industry interests for opposing the proposed regulations and for waging a “relentless campaign to thwart even basic, common-sense rules”. He repeated his call for Republicans and Democrats to work together to overhaul the system but made it clear that Democrats are prepared to go it alone.

“One way or another, we will move forward,” he said. “This issue is too important.”

In the weekly Republican address, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor criticised government spending and climbing deficits that he said are driving taxes higher.

Cantor said Obama has enacted 25 tax increases passed by the Democratic-controlled Congress that will cost families and small businesses more than $670 billion over the next decade and create a “bleak future for our kids and grandkids”.

He urged a vote for the Republicans in the November congressional elections.

“You have to take action so that we can begin to erase our deficits and free our children from our debt,” Cantor said. “And rather than putting the squeeze on our nation’s job creators and entrepreneurs, we believe in a pro-growth strategy to create jobs and empower the American entrepreneur and small business people to thrive.”

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17
Apr
10

SEC tries to ride Goldman Sachs Group back to credibility

NEWS
SEC tries to ride Goldman Sachs Group back to credibility

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Financial shares led the stock market sharply lower after federal regulators filed civil fraud charges against Goldman Sachs over its dealings in subprime mortgages.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost about 125 points, having been down as much as 170 points. At times, it fell below 11,000 after closing above that level on Monday for the first time in more than a year and a half.

Analysts say the market was poised to fall after a steady run of gains the past two months, and the Goldman Sachs news gave investors a reason to sell and take some profits.

“Basically it’s sell, and ask questions later,” said Quincy Krosby, market strategist at Prudential Financial. “A market that wants to sell off will find an excuse.”

Stocks were already lower before news of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s charges against the leading investment bank. Investors were disappointed after Google reported earnings that didn’t live up to forecasts.

General Electric Co. and Bank of America Corp. also reported profits that topped forecasts, but their stocks still fell. GE’s revenue came up short of expectations, while Bank of America said loan losses remain high.

The SEC charged Goldman and one of its vice presidents with failing to disclose key information to investors regarding complex mortgage-backed securities.

“It’s all a knee-jerk reaction to Goldman,” said Steven Goldman, chief market strategist at Weeden & Co., referring to the market’s drop. He said the fundamentals of the market have not changed.

The charges come as the Obama administration seeks greater regulation of America’s banks and their trading of exotic securities like those involved in the Goldman case. These kinds of investments are widely seen as one of the triggers of the financial crisis that crippled the nation’s financial system in the (northern) autumn of 2008.

“Road blocks for financial regulation have taken a hit today,” said Thomas Villalta, co-portfolio manager of the Jones Villalta Opportunity Fund.

Analysts say other banks that also traded these types of securities will be closely scrutinised. That means the financial industry could continue to struggle because of uncertainty about reform and other potential investigations.

Investors looked past economic news. The Commerce Department said housing construction rose to a 16-month high in March. However, construction of single-family homes, the most important segment of the market, fell.

Economists are also concerned about continued hurdles in the housing market, like rising mortgage rates and the end this month of a homebuyer tax credit. A separate report showed consumer sentiment fell this month.

Friday’s drop comes after six straight days of gains that pushed the Dow to its highest close in more than 18 months. Stocks have been steadily rising in recent months on growing signs that the economy is recovering, albeit slowly.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 127.34 points or 1.14 per cent, to 11,017.23 points.

The tech-rich Nasdaq composite slipped 33.98 points or 1.35 per cent, to 2,481.71 and the broad-market Standard Poor’s 500 index dipped 18.54 points or 1.53 per cent, to 1,193.13.

After mixed early trades, the SEC announcement, and its refusal to rule out further charges across the financial sector, sent shares in some of Wall Streets biggest firms deep into negative territory.

Goldman stocks were over 10 per cent down, slicing $20 off each share. They were followed by Bank of America, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley, whose stocks were between three and five per cent off.

Trading had got off to a subdued start despite larger-than-forecasted increases in housing starts and building permits in March, as well as favourable earnings reports from Bank of America and General Electric.

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