I like Bill Cohan’s clearly written column explaining how Goldman marked its mortgage assets lower than everyone else, then aggressively pursued collateral on its insurance contracts, setting off a chain reaction that crashed AIG.
And he’s good to keep reading the FCIC report, which was, as he says, largely buried by many of us in the press before it was properly read.
But I do have a couple problems with the argument. For one thing, nowhere does Cohan contend that Goldman was actually wrong to mark down its mortgage assets. If the argument is that Goldman (which used to be an Audit funder) did it too quickly, I can only wonder: is that even possible, given the assets we’re talking about?
A second problem with the argument is that, by necessity, it sets up Joe Cassano, of all people, as some kind of victim of Goldman’s greedy and unreasonable demands. Does that seem plausible?
Here’s a sample:
The dispute continued into January. Cassano eventually spoke with David Viniar, Goldman’s chief financial officer, to try again to get the money back. “We may have been ahead of the market,” Cassano said Viniar told him, “but the market is coming our way.” Cassano was again incredulous, and wondered if Goldman was “driving the market” down to benefit the short position it had started taking in December 2006 against the mortgage market. “There is nothing trading,” Cassano said. “You can’t even trade by appointment.”
This is unfair, like making us choose between Mothra and Godzilla. Is Goldman’s marking down mortgage assets really the issue? That’s Cassano’s view, but wasn’t the real problem that all those horrendous assets were created (yes, by Goldman, among others) in the first place, and that Cassano then decided to insure them?
Further reading: “Testy Conflict With Goldman Helped Push A.I.G. to Edge,” terrific work by Gretchen Morgenson and Louise Story that got the story started a year ago. Plus, my thumbs up.
Also: the late Mark Pittman’s piece on Goldman’s contribution to the CDO debacle (updated with fabulous graphics).
—Matt Taibbi is smart to take on the all-important question: where are all the prosecutions from the financial crash/crisis?