Bloomberg’s Weil Asks the Right Questions on Goldman

Jonathan Weil zeroes in on the incredible statement by the prosecutor in the Goldman Sachs code-theft case that if Goldman’s program falls in the wrong hands it could allow them to “manipulate markets in unfair ways.”

I pointed this out, too, a couple of days ago and said this:

Which raises the obvious question of whether Goldman Sachs itself uses the program to manipulate markets in unfair ways. What controls are there on this? Who regulates it? I’ll look forward to some explanatory pieces on this in the days ahead.

So far, I haven’t seen much in the way of explanatory stuff yet. One possible explanation is that it’s just taking time to report out a story of such heavy implications. Goldman is a difficult institution to report through, to say the least. Whatever, we need answers here.

Weil calls on Goldman to say publicly “what’s stopping the world’s most powerful investment bank from using its trading program in unfair ways, too.”

That’d be nice, as well, though you can hardly expect them to say “nothing.”

Weil has a sharp eye here, too, for inane journalism habits:

On July 6, Dow Jones Newswires quoted a “person familiar with the matter” saying this: “The theft has had no impact on our clients and no impact on our business.” Note that this person was so familiar with Goldman that he or she spoke of Goldman’s clients as “our clients” and Goldman’s business as “our business.”

Check out Weil on Bloomberg TV, as well, discussing his column (watch the segment and imagine seeing something like it on CNBC). Bloomberg’s non-Weil talking head sets up a question:

Goldman got on the phone to the Justice Department and got them so fast to nail this guy…you wonder if they have a red line to the government.

A red line to the government? Polemicists on the left and the right (and many somewhere in between) agree on Goldman: They are the government (and, full disclosure, a funder of The Audit).

Reuters’s Matthew Goldstein, who broke this story, also has a good column on the story. He notes that analysts expect Goldman to break its record for trading revenue set in 2007, which was $25 billion.

A question or two about how much of the trading revenues was related to client trades versus proprietary trades for the firm’s own account would be a good place to start. Don’t let Goldman executives get away with the firm’s standard answer about how most of its risk-taking is for clients, without ever quantifying that risk.

Now given Goldman’s general animus to the notion of fuller disclosure, I wouldn’t expect its executives to say much if pressed by analysts. So it probably will require the power of the Federal Reserve — Goldman’s new overseer — to lean on the investment bank to force it to provide more detail about the firm’s trading prowess.

Uh huh. And they’re not going to do it unless an aggressive press corps asks first.

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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.