Skimpy Coverage of Levin-Coburn Report From WSJ, NYT

McClatchy, The Huffington Post, and Bloomberg are much better

If you’re looking for second-day coverage of the Levin-Coburn report in The Wall Street Journal or New York Times—as I was—prepare to look elsewhere.

The Journal gives us all of three paragraphs of boilerplate in the middle of yet another A1 story about how the SEC is going to settle with the banks on CDOs. The Times puts a few graphs on B8 about how the news affected bank stocks negatively (clearly the most critical angle).

So here are some of the main things you don’t know about the Levin-Coburn report if you just read The Wall Street Journal and/or The New York Times papers, and missed good coverage by McClatchy, The Huffington Post, and Bloomberg (and a bit of so-so from the FT):

— That Senator Carl Levin, who chairs the subcommittee that release the report, wants to refer Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and other Goldman executives to the Justice Department for prosecution for lying to Congress and for defrauding investors. Everybody reported that but the two big papers.

Today, in a second-day story, the Financial Times looks at the possibility of a criminal case against Goldman.

— That Goldman screwed a client in a manner similar to how Wachovia worked over the Zuni Indian Tribe, for which Wells Fargo (which acquired Wachovia) had to pay an $11 million fine last week. The Huffington Post has that, reporting that it involved selling a slice of the infamous Timberwolf “shitty deal” for 42 percent more than Goldman had marked it.

— That Goldman’s Hudson-Mezzanine-2006-1 deal, which the Journal got a scoop on a couple of weeks ago, looks like another Abacus, the deal that cost Goldman $550 million. Here’s McClatchy’s second-day story:

In their marketing booklet, the Goldman traders stated that the securities selected for the deal were “sourced from the street” and that Hudson “is not a balance sheet” deal. In Wall Street parlance, that meant that the securities were purchased from Wall Street dealers and that Goldman wasn’t taking the “short” position, or wagering that the securities would default.

Neither was true, the investigators said, and Goldman was making “a proprietary investment … in a direct, adverse position to the investors” — a position it declined to divulge even when a representative of another investor, National Australia Bank, directly asked.

Goldman also stressed to investors that it was investing in an equity piece, or one of the riskiest slices of the deal.

The committee found that Goldman invested $6 million in the equity slice. Meanwhile, Levin said, it bet “more than 300 times more” — $2 billion — against the deal.

(The Journal and Times both reported on Hudson Mezzanine last year but that lacked the details we now know, much less the imprimatur of a final Senate report)

— That Washington Mutual misled investors about toxic loans in order to dump them off their balance sheet. Bloomberg:

On lending, the panel alleges that executives at failed thrift Washington Mutual Inc. dumped its bad loans on clients while misleading them about their value.

“WaMu selected delinquency-prone loans for sale in order to move risk from the banks’ books to the investors in WaMu securities,” Levin said.

Here’s the Levin-Coburn report itself:

At times, WaMu securitized loans that it had identified as likely to go delinquent, without disclosing its analysis to investors to whom it sold the securities, and also securitized loans tainted by fraudulent information, without notifying purchasers of the fraud that was discovered and known to the bank.

Let’s hope there are more follow-up pieces in the works, particularly from the Journal and the Times.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

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. Tags: , , , ,