Audit Notes: Goldman, Goldman, Goldman (What Else?)

Marian Wang of ProPublica has a sharp follow-up to the blockbuster news that the SEC is charging Goldman Sachs with fraud:

Other Major Banks Did Deals Similar to Goldman’s

Yep, and ProPublica has lots of string on this stuff from last week’s major Magnetar CDO investigation.

Investment banks including JPMorgan Chase, Merrill Lynch (now part of Bank of America), Citigroup, Deutsche Bank and UBS also created CDOs that a hedge fund named Magnetar was both helping create and betting would fail. Those investment banks marketed and sold the CDOs to investors without disclosing Magnetar’s role or the hedge fund’s interests.

Here is a list of the banks that were involved in Magnetar deals, along with links to many of the prospectuses on the deals, which skip over Magnetar’s role. In all, investment banks created at least 30 CDOs with Magnetar, worth roughly $40 billion overall. Goldman’s 25 Abacus CDOs—one of which is the basis of the SEC’s lawsuit—amounted to $10.9 billion.

The Huffington Post points to a 2007 email from “Fabulous” Fabrice Tourre, the Goldman (Goldman is an Audit funder) veep charged along with the firm by the SEC this morning:

“More and more leverage in the system. The whole building is about to collapse anytime now… Only potential survivor, the fabulous Fab[rice Tourre]… standing in the middle of all these complex, highly leveraged exotic trades he created without necessarily understanding all of the implications of those monstrosities!!!”

Reporters across the land (and world) are working furiously to slap together the first profile of Fabulous Fab, you can bet on that.

Felix Salmon says the fraud charges against Goldman have left its “reputation in tatters” with its clients.

Goldman talks ad nauseam about how everything it does it does for its clients, and how any profits it ultimately ends up making are just a result of being “long-term greedy”. But if it attempts legalistic hair-splitting about how its behavior in the Abacus case was technically not illegal, it’s just going to end up looking even more culpable in the eyes of its clients. Goldman, if it was behaving honorably here, would have been open about the whole truth of what was going on. It would have revealed Paulson’s role in structuring the deal to IKB and other investors, and it would have revealed Paulson’s short position to ACA. Instead, it played IKB and ACA for suckers. And that’s just not the kind of behavior that Goldman likes to think that it engages in…

In any case, it seems to me that Goldman owes its clients and the public a massive apology. Blankfein has already said that Goldman “participated in things that were clearly wrong and have reason to regret”; he should make it clear that Abacus falls into that category. Instead, he’s trying to brazen it out, and is saying that the SEC’s charges are “unfounded in fact”. That might make sense from the point of view of a legal strategy, but it doesn’t make sense if he’s trying to rescue what remains of his and his firm’s reputation.

—Confused on what the SEC says Goldman did wrong? The Washington Independent’s Annie Lowrey posts an “Analogy for the Goldman Fraud,” comparing it to have a real estate broker help you find a house in a foreign country

So you meet with the broker, who shows you a plain apartment in a plain apartment building. You decide to go for it. He says he will hire an independent home inspector to appraise the home, to make sure it is sound and to help you determine your bid. The process moves forward, you buy the house and pay the broker his fee.

But just months later, you find out that the neighborhood is drug-addled and the apartment filled with leaks. You try to sell the apartment, but can only do so at a 90 percent loss. It turns out that the third-party independent home inspector had been hired by the seller; that the seller had made a bet with a bookie that the price of the house would go down; and that the broker knew it — he let them overvalue your house.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.