Yesterday, I said Goldman had a minor but valid point in spokesman Lucas van Praag’s unusual public response to last Sunday’s Times piece on the Goldman/AIG collateral fracas that preceded the insurer’s great collapse.

For those new to the conversation, the Times piece chronicled the argument over the value of the complicated securities that AIG had agreed to insure for Goldman (and many others). As the value dropped, the insureds were entitled to cash collateral; the argument was over how much. The more AIG had to pay out, the more precarious its own position became. The Times reported that the “testy” conflict with Goldman helped to push AIG to the “edge.”

But, as I said, while Goldman’s post (we really are all bloggers now) provided a useful alternative view, most of the “errors” the bank cites really don’t qualify. Overall, the story holds up very well.

On the other hand, these corporate/newspaper collisions are not always a zero-sum game. That doesn’t mean we should just all get along, but it is something to think about when reading about these

Or you can leave it as a he-said/she-said, as Clusterstock did with its headline on van Praag’s piece:


The New York Times Piece On Goldman Killing AIG Is Total Nonsense And Riddled With Errors

Not so. Here’s a quick run-through of Goldman’s nine objections:

NYT assertion: “Goldman countered that it was owed even more, while also resisting consulting with third parties to help estimate a value for the securities.”

The facts: We would have been happy to consult with third parties. In fact, on numerous occasions we attempted—unsuccessfully—to agree on a process with AIG to obtain third-party values.

It is true that Goldman here is asked to prove a negative—that it wasn’t “resisting” consulting with third parties. Clearly, the two sides disagreed over how to do it, so Goldman can be said to have been “resisting,” just as the same thing could be said of AIG. The Times, however, does offer contemporaneous evidence that Goldman resisted. That’s below. Meanwhile, Goldman got to make the same point in the story it is making here.

NYT assertion: “Goldman’s demands for billions of dollars from the insurer helped put it in a precarious financial position by bleeding much-needed cash.”

The facts: Relative to the size of AIG’s overall business, Goldman Sachs was a small counterparty. We don’t believe our marks were “aggressive,” they reflected market prices at the time. We requested the collateral we were entitled to under the terms of our agreements. The idea that AIG collapsed because of our marks is not credible. In any event, the story later asserts that, by the spring of 2008, AIG’s dispute with Goldman Sachs was just one of its many woes.

Not only can both side be right, in this case they are. Goldman clearly helped push AIG to the edge, and AIG certainly had other problems.

NYT assertion: “In addition, according to two people with knowledge of the positions a portion of the $11 billion in taxpayer money that went to Societe Generale, a French bank that traded with A.I.G, was subsequently transferred to Goldman under a deal the two banks had struck.”

The facts: The assertion is false and misleading. Goldman Sachs provided financing to many counterparties, but in that role we would not have known whether a counterparty had obtained credit default protection, let alone from whom or in what amount.

This is the one I dealt with yesterday.

NYT assertion: “Goldman Sachs stood to gain from the housing market’s implosion because in late 2006, the firm had begun to make huge trades that would pay off if the mortgage market soured.”

The facts: This statement is misleading and mischaracterizes how we positioned ourselves at the start of 2007. Goldman Sachs, like most other financial firms, was long the mortgage market at the end of 2006. In order to bring our exposure closer to flat, we began hedging our mortgage holdings in the first quarter of 2007. Those hedges certainly limited our exposure to the declining housing market, but we also recorded substantial writedowns on our residential mortgage holdings. Moreover, in most of the trades with AIG described in the article, Goldman Sachs was hedged by an offsetting position and did not have a short directional bet on the mortgage market.

Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014). Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.