Last week, I wrote that the lack of disclosure surrounding the American International Group bailout had put The New York Times at odds with Bloomberg over a fundamental question: What was Goldman Sachs’s stake in that bailout?
The Times, recall, reported via anonymous sources on September 29 that Goldman’s risk was up to $20 billion, while a lengthy Bloomberg profile of Goldman and its chief executive, Lloyd Blankfein, three weeks later asserted via its own source that Goldman’s risk had been hedged down to zero, implying Goldman had no stake in the AIG bailout.
In its October 21 story, Bloomberg had put it this way (emphasis is mine):
Goldman wouldn’t have lost money if AIG had gone out of business, the person said, although the collapse would have caused wide-spread economic distress.
It appears that “wouldn’t have lost money” is not the full story, not by a long shot. Goldman in fact reaped what may be a huge taxpayer-financed windfall, authorized by its former chief executive, Hank Paulson, shortly after its current chief executive, Lloyd Blankfein, was meeting Federal Reserve officials in New York on that very topic.
Who says? Bloomberg.
On September 29, three weeks before Bloomberg’s Goldman profile, Bloomberg’s Mark Pittman published a story that blows away any inference that Goldman had no stake in the bailout. This story was brought to my attention after I wrote the earlier piece. Here are excerpts with my emphasis:
Sept. 29 (Bloomberg) — As much as $37 billion from federal bailout loans to American International Group Inc. has gone to investment banks including Goldman Sachs Group Inc., the firm Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson used to run.
Without the government money, Goldman, Merrill Lynch & Co., Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank AG and other firms could have become some of the biggest creditors in a bankruptcy filing by AIG, the world’s largest insurer, because of its billions in losses on subprime bonds and corporate debt.
And finally, just in case you are not getting the picture:
“It was the biggest crisis ever — if you’re an investment bank,” said Joshua Rosner, a managing director at investment research firm Graham Fisher & Co. in New York. “We didn’t just save AIG. We saved the counterparties, the banks. It’s true that it would have been a disaster, but it would have been a disaster for them.”
And here’s what we know about Blankfein’s role:
Paulson’s successor at Goldman, Lloyd Blankfein, was the only chief executive at a meeting Sept. 15 at the New York Federal Reserve Bank at which the troubles at AIG were discussed, although representatives of other firms were present, a Fed spokesman said.
This is the same information published by Gretchen Morgenson the same day in the Times’s story referenced above.
Oh, and lest we forget, Goldman’s former director, Ed Liddy, was named by Goldman’s former CEO to head Goldman’s counterparty, AIG:
My point is not to give the later Bloomberg story a hard time. The point is, again, that we—journalists and readers—are still, even today, after the blowup, are forced to rely on anonymous sources to find out basic information: Who is getting taxpayer funds?
Does it get any more fundamental?
The excellent earlier Bloomberg story does not say how much of the $37 billion went to meet Goldman’s demands for collateral, only that it was among several Wall Street banks in the welfare line to cover the bad trades with AIG that the banks themselves, via their overeducated, overpaid, and overprivileged employees, had made of their own volition in a boneheaded attempt to boost their own profit and their employees’ own compensation. Pathetic.
When you think we’re still trying to figure out whether we can afford to extend unemployment benefits it makes you look at those black cars wheeling around Manhattan in a whole new light.
Goldman spokespeople have been on the record saying its exposure to AIG was hedged, collateralized, and “not material” to its financial position. That may be technically true, but, I would point out, materiality is a broad-enough term that it can cover both a scenario in which the bailout fills a sizeable—albeit “not material”—hole at Goldman or provides a sizeable-but-not-material windfall. We’re talking billions.
And just in case you still buy the Goldman source’s line that the AIG bailout didn’t matter to the firm—that it “wouldn’t have lost money” and that Blankfein was concerned merely about “wide-spread economic distress”—additional reporting this week has offered glimpses of exactly how desperate Goldman was—how fiercely it hounded AIG—for collateral on its AIG-issued bond insurance as the insurer’s troubles become apparent.