Skip to main content

Gary Cohn is giving Goldman Sachs everything it ever wanted from the Trump Administration

Gary Rivlin, Michael Hudson

Part 4 - THE BIG SHORT

People inside Goldman Sachs were growing nervous. It was the fall of 2006 and, as Daniel Sparks, the Goldman partner overseeing the firm’s 400-person mortgage trading department, wrote in an email to several colleagues, “Subprime market getting hit hard.” The firm had lent millions to New Century, a mortgage lender dealing in the higher-risk subprime market. And now New Century was late on payments. Sparks could see that the wobbly housing market was having an impact on his department. For 10 consecutive trading days, his people had lost money. The dollar amounts were small to a behemoth like Goldman: between $5 million and $30 million a day. But the trend made Sparks jittery enough to share his concerns with the Goldman’s top executives: President Gary Cohn; David Viniar, the firm’s chief financial officer; and CEO Lloyd Blankfein.

Sparks, a Cohn protégé, was running the mortgage desk that his mentor, only a few years earlier, had built into a major profit center for the bank. In 2006 and 2007, a report by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations found, the two “maintained frequent, direct contact” as Goldman worked to jettison the billions in subprime loans it had on its book. “One of my jobs at the time was to make sure Gary and David and Lloyd knew what was going on,” Sparks told William Cohan, author of the 2011 book “Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World.” “They don’t like surprises.” Viniar summoned around 20 traders and managers to a 30th floor conference room inside Goldman headquarters in lower Manhattan. It was there, on an unseasonably warm Thursday in December 2006, that the firm decided to initiate what people inside Goldman would eventually dub “the big short.”

One name tossed around during the three-hour meeting was that of John Paulson. Paulson (no relation to Goldman’s former CEO) would later attain infamy when it was revealed that his firm, Paulson & Co., made roughly $15 billion betting against the mortgage market. (His personal take was nearly $4 billion.) At that point, though, Paulson was a little-known hedge fund manager who crossed Goldman’s radar when he asked the firm to create a product that would allow him to take a “short position” on the real estate market — laying down bets that a large number of mortgage investments were going to plummet in value. Goldman sold Paulson what’s called a credit-default swap, essentially an insurance policy that would pay off if homeowners defaulted on their mortgages in large enough numbers. The firm would create several more swaps on his behalf in the intervening months. Eventually, as mortgage defaults began to mount, people inside Goldman Sachs came to see Paulson as more of a prophet than a patsy. Some sitting around the conference table that December day wanted to follow his lead.

There will be big opportunities the next several months,” one Goldman manager at the meeting wrote enthusiastically in an email sent shortly after it ended. Sparks weighed in by email later that night. He wanted to make sure Goldman had enough “dry powder” — cash on hand — to be “ready for the good opportunities that are coming.” That Sunday, Sparks copied Cohn on an email reporting the firm’s progress on laying down short positions against mortgage-backed securities it had put together. The trading desk had already made $1.5 billion in short bets, “but still more work to do.

Cohn was a member of Goldman’s board of directors during this critical time and second in command of the bank. At that point, Cohn and Blankfein, along with the board and other top executives, had several options. They might have shared their concerns about the mortgage market in a filing with the SEC, which requires publicly traded companies to reveal “triggering events that accelerate or increase a direct financial obligation” or might cause “impairments” to the bottom line. They might have warned clients who had invested in mortgage-backed securities to consider extracting themselves before they suffered too much financial damage. At the very least, Goldman could have stopped peddling mortgage-backed securities that its own mortgage trading desk suspected might soon collapse in value.

Instead, Cohn and his colleagues decided to take care of Goldman Sachs.

Goldman would not have suffered the reputational damage that it did — or paid multiple billions in federal fines — if the firm, anticipating the impending crisis, had merely shorted the housing market in the hopes of making billions. That is what investment banks do: spot ways to make money that others don’t see. The money managers and traders featured in the film “The Big Short” did the same — and they were cast as brave contrarians. Yet unlike the investors featured in the film, Goldman had itself helped inflate the housing bubble — buying tens of billions of dollars in subprime mortgages over the previous several years for bundling into bonds they sold to investors. And unlike these investors, Goldman’s people were not warning anyone who would listen about the disaster about to hit. As federal investigations found, the firm, which still claims “our clients’ interests always come first” as a core principle, failed to disclose that its top people saw disaster in the very products its salespeople were continuing to hawk.

Goldman still held billions of mortgages on its books in December 2006 — mortgages that Cohn and other Goldman executives suspected would soon be worth much less than the firm had paid for them. So, while Cohn was overseeing one team inside Goldman Sachs preoccupied with implementing the big short, he was in regular contact with others scrambling to offload its subprime inventory. One Goldman trader described the mortgage-backed securities they were selling as “shitty.” Another complained in an email that they were being asked to “distribute junk that nobody was dumb enough to take first time around.” A December 28 email from Fabrice “Fabulous Fab” Tourre, a Goldman vice president later convicted of fraud, instructed traders to focus on less astute, “buy and hold” investors rather than “sophisticated hedge funds” that “will be on the same side of the trade as we will.

At Goldman Sachs, Cohn was known as a hands-on boss who made it his business to walk the floors, talking directly with traders and risk managers scattered throughout the firm. “Blankfein’s role has always been the salesperson and big-thinker conceptualizer,” said Dick Bove, a veteran Wall Street analyst who has covered Goldman Sachs for decades. “Gary was the guy dealing with the day-to-day operations. Gary was running the company.” While making his rounds, Cohn would sometimes hike a leg up on a trader’s desk, his crotch practically in the person’s face.

At 6-foot- 2, bullet-headed and bald with a heavy jaw and a fighter’s face, Cohn cut a large figure inside Goldman. Profiles over the years would describe him as aggressive, abrasive, gruff, domineering — the firm’s “attack dog.” He was the missile Blankfein launched when he needed to deliver bad news or enforce discipline. Cohn embodied the new Goldman: the man who would run through a brick wall if it meant a big payoff for the bank.

A Bloomberg profile described his typical day as 11 or 12 hours in the office, a bank-related dinner, then phone calls and emails until midnight. “The old adage that hard work will get you what you want is 100 percent true,” Cohn said in a 2009 commencement address at American University. “Work hard, ask questions, and take risk.

There’s no record of how often Cohn visited his stomping grounds after hours in the early months of 2007, but emails reveal an executive demanding — and getting — regular updates. On February 7, one of the largest originators of subprime loans, HSBC, reported a greater than anticipated rise in troubled loans in its portfolio, and another, New Century, restated its earnings for the previous three quarters to “correct errors.” Sparks wrote an email to Cohn and others the next morning to reassure them that his team was closely monitoring the pricing of the company’s “scratch-and-dent book” and already had a handle on which loans were defaults and which could still be securitized and offloaded onto customers. An impatient Cohn sent a two-word email at 5 o’clock that evening: “Any update?” The next day, an internal memo circulated that listed dozens of mortgage-backed securities with the exhortation, “Let all of the respective desks know how we can be helpful in moving these bonds.” A week later, Sparks updated Cohn on the billions in shorts his firm had bought but warned that it was hurting sales of its “pipeline of CDOs,” the collateralized debt obligations the firm had created in order to sell the mortgages still on its books.

In early March, Cohn was among those who received an email spelling out the mortgage products the firm still held. The stockpile included $1.7 billion in mortgage-related securities, along with $1.3 billion in subprime home loans and $4.3 billion in “Alt-A” loans that fall between prime and subprime on the risk scale. Goldman was “net short,” according to that same email, with $13 billion in short positions, but its exposure to the mortgage market was still considerable. Sparks and others continued to update Cohn on their success offloading securities backed by subprime mortgages through the third quarter of 2007. One product Goldman priced at $94 a share on March 31, 2007 was worth just $15 five months later. Pension funds and insurance companies were among those losing billions of dollars on securities Goldman put together and endorsed as a safe, AAA-rated investments.

The third quarter of 2007 was ugly. A pair of Bear Stearns hedge funds failed. Merrill Lynch reported $2.2 billion in losses — its largest quarterly loss ever. Merrill’s CEO warned that the bank faced another $8 billion in potential losses due to the firm’s exposure to subprime mortgages and resigned several weeks later. The roiling credit crisis also took down the CEO of Citigroup, which reported $6.5 billion in losses and then weeks later, warned of $8 billion to $11 billion in additional subprime-related write-downs.

And then there was Goldman Sachs, which reported a $2.9 billion profit that quarter. For the moment, the financial press seemed in awe of Blankfein, Cohn, and the rest of the team running the firm. Fortune headlined an article “How Goldman Sachs Defies Gravity” that said Goldman’s “huge, shrewd bet” against the mortgage market “would seem to confirm the view Goldman is the nimblest, and perhaps the smartest, brokerage on Wall Street.” A Goldman press release drily noted that “significant losses” in some areas — the subprime mortgages it hadn’t managed to unload — had been “more than offset by gains on short mortgage products.” A Goldman trader who played a central role in the big short was not so demure when making the case for a big bonus that year. John Paulson was “definitely the man in this space,” he conceded, but he’d helped make Goldman “#1 on the street by a wide margin.

Disaster struck nine months into 2008 with the collapse of Lehman Brothers, in large part the result of its exposure to subprime losses. Hank Paulson, the Treasury secretary and former Goldman CEO, spent a weekend meeting with would-be suitors willing to take over a storied bank that on paper was now worth virtually nothing. He couldn’t find a buyer. Nor could officials from the Federal Reserve, who were also working overtime to save the investment bank, founded in 1850, that was even older than Goldman Sachs. Shortly after midnight on Monday, September 15, 2008, Lehman announced that it would file for bankruptcy protection when the courts in New York opened that morning — the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history.

Goldman Sachs wasn’t immune from the crisis. The week before Lehman’s fall, Goldman’s stock had topped $161 a share. By Wednesday, it dropped to below $100. It had avoided some big losses by betting against the mortgage market, but the wider financial crisis was wreaking havoc on its other investments. On paper, Cohn had personally lost tens of millions of dollars. He hunkered down in an office with a view of Goldman’s trading floor and worked the phone, trying to change the minds of major investors who were pulling their money from Goldman, fearful of anything riskier than stashing their cash in a mattress.

The next week, Goldman converted from a free-standing investment bank to a bank holding company, which made it, in the eyes of regulators, no different from Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, or any other retail bank. That gave the firm access to cheap capital through the Fed but would also bring increased scrutiny from regulators. The bank took a $10 billion bailout from the Troubled Asset Relief Program and another $5 billion from Warren Buffett, in return for an annual dividend of 10 percent and access to discounted company stock. The firm raised additional billions through a public stock offering.

The biggest threat to Goldman was the economic health of the American International Group. Among other products, AIG sold insurance to protect against defaults on mortgage assets, which had been central to Goldman’s big short. Of the $80 billion in U.S. mortgage assets that AIG insured during the housing bubble, Goldman bought protection from AIG on roughly $33 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal. When Lehman went into bankruptcy, its creditors received 11 cents on the dollar. Executives at AIG, in a frantic effort to avoid bankruptcy, had floated the idea of pushing its creditors to accept 40 to 60 cents on the dollar; there was speculation creditors like Goldman would receive as little as 25 percent. Goldman and its clients were looking at multibillion-dollar hits to their bottom line — a potentially fatal blow.

But as Goldman learned a century ago, it pays to have friends in high places. The day after Lehman went bankrupt, the Bush administration announced an $85 billion bailout of AIG in return for a majority stake in the company. The next day, Paulson obtained a waiver regarding interactions with his former firm because, the Treasury secretary said, “It became clear that we had some very significant issues with Goldman Sachs.” Paulson’s calendar, the New York Times reported, showed that the week of the AIG bailout, he and Blankfein spoke two dozen times. While creditors around the globe were being forced to settle for much less than they were owed, AIG paid its counterparties 100 cents on the dollar. AIG ended up being the single largest private recipient of TARP funding. It received additional billions in rescue funds from the New York Federal Reserve Bank, whose board chair Stephen Friedman was a former Goldman executive who still sat on the firm’s board. The U.S. Treasury ended up with greater than a 90 percent share of AIG, and the U.S. government, using taxpayer dollars, paid in full on the insurance policies financial institutions bought to protect themselves from steep declines in real estate prices — chief among them, Goldman Sachs. All told, Goldman received at least $22.9 billion in public bailouts, including $10 billion in TARP funds and $12.9 billion in taxpayer-funded payments from AIG.

Goldman, once again, had come out on top.

Source, links:


[1] [2] [3] [5] [6]

Related:


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Όσοι περνάν των χώρα της απόγνωσης παθαίνουν αμνησία ...

globinfo freexchange
Δανειστήκαμε αυτή τη φράση από ένα παλιό κομμάτι της Ελληνικής ροκ μπάντας "Τρύπες", για να περιγράψουμε με λίγα λόγια αυτό που φαίνεται να έχει πάθει η Ελληνική κοινωνία. 
Πώς είναι δυνατόν μια ολόκληρη κοινωνία να έχει ξεχάσει ποιοι τη χρεοκόπησαν; Ποιοι έστησαν το άθλιο σύστημα των κρατικοδίαιτων 'ημέτερων' και της οικογενειοκρατίας; Ποιοι έσωσαν τις τράπεζες με πακτωλό δισεκατομμυρίων σε βάρος της μεσαίας τάξης; Ποιοι έκαναν τη μίζα και το ρουσφέτι επάγγελμα; Πώς είναι δυνατόν αυτή η κοινωνία να ετοιμάζεται να ξαναφέρει στην εξουσία ένα κομμάτι αυτού του άθλιου πολιτικού κατεστημένου, με την επιστροφή μάλιστα του αμετανόητα νεοφιλελεύθερου Κυριάκου Μητσοτάκη και της ομάδας του;  
Η απόγνωση που έφεραν εννέα χρόνια βάρβαρων νεοφιλελεύθερων πολιτικών και σκληρής λιτότητας και που ανάγκασε τη χώρα να διαβεί τον εφιαλτικό μονόδρομο της μόνιμης χρεοκοπίας, πρέπει να έπαιξε σημαντικό ρόλο. 
Διότι ως γνωστόν, η απελπισία λίγο απέχει από τ…

The 'Julian Assange' index: another evidence that Elizabeth Warren is establishment's last resort

 globinfo freexchange

We should be grateful to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks for uncovering the ruthless and ugly face of the establishment. For the exposure of the biggest war crimes by the US empire in the Iraq war. For the exposure of the dirty war by the DNC against Bernie Sanders, and many more.
But even now, being in this extremely hard situation because of the absolutely inhuman treatment by this imperialistic crypto-fascist regime, Assange remarkably becomes the cause that forces more masks to fall.

Therefore, the 'Julian Assange' index can even help us identify the real and the fake progressives.

As The Interceptreported:
The Justice Department filed 17 charges against WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange on Thursday, deploying the controversial Espionage Act as a cudgel against First Amendment protections and press freedom. It’s the first time the U.S. government has used the Espionage Act to prosecute a publisher, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

[..…

Brussels bureaufascists are ready to replace Alexis Tsipras with their most faithful puppet in Greece

globinfo freexchange
The latest European election in Greece was a real shock for the government. Alexis Tsipras and his party SYRIZA took the second place and suffered a heavy defeat with almost 10 points behind the right-wing New Democracy. Tsipras was forced to declare national elections on July 7th and it seems that blog's predictions are about to become true.

As we wrote already in 2016, right after the internal elections for the new leadership in New Democracy:
The result for the leadership of the main opposition party, New Democracy, in Greece after Sunday's elections, must had brought waves of relief to the Brussels-Berlin axis. Brussels bureaufascists and Berlin directorate have now the best "backup" alternative in case that Tsipras administration attempt to diverge from the catastrophic policies imposed by the European Financial Dictatorship (EFD).
The new leader of New Democracy, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, is probably the ideal alternative solution. The man that co…

Έρχεται ο νεοφιλελεύθερος "οδοστρωτήρας" Κούλης που θα ισοπεδώσει τους εργαζόμενους

globinfo freexchange
«Επταήμερο εργασίας. Όχι ο εκβιασμός που γίνεται από τους ελέγχους εδώ πέρα, όχι εξαήμερο, επταήμερο! Απαιτούμε να γίνει πιο εύκολο, πιο ευέλικτο το θέμα των 7 ημερών και όχι να επικρέμεται η σπάθη των προστίμων», απαίτησε ο "ευγενής" επιχειρηματίας από τον Κυριάκο Μητσοτάκη που επισκέφτηκε την Κω. 
Δηλαδή, το "αφεντικό" δεν θέλει να έχει κανένα έλεγχο πάνω από το κεφάλι του και να κάνει ότι γουστάρει με τους εργαζόμενους. Αν μπορεί δηλαδή να τους βάζει να δουλεύουν και δωδεκάωρα (όπως πέρασε με νόμο στην Αυστρία η συντηρητική δεξιά) και να τους δίνει ένα ξεροκόμματο, ίσα-ίσα για να μπορούν να δουλεύουν.  Θεωρεί τον έλεγχο, δηλαδή αν τηρείται με λίγα λόγια η εργασιακή νομοθεσία, "εκβιασμό". Καταλάβατε νοοτροπία; 
Προσέξτε το ύφος του: το "αφεντικό" με θράσος απαιτεί, χτυπώντας σχεδόν το χέρι στο τραπέζι, να μπορεί ουσιαστικά να εφαρμόζει συνθήκες σύγχρονης δουλείας, όχι μόνο χωρίς καμία επίπτωση, αλλά ούτε καν ενόχληση.  

Οι λούμπεν μικροαστοί είναι έτοιμοι να επιλέξουν τον δήμιο τους που αποτελεί και την καλύτερη εφεδρεία για τους γραφειοφασίστες των Βρυξελλών

του system failure
Το πρόσφατο αποτέλεσμα των ευρωεκλογών δείχνει ότι το νεοφιλελεύθερο ιερατείο Βρυξελλών/Βερολίνου θεωρεί ότι έφτασε η ώρα να αντικατασταθεί ο Αλέξης Τσίπρας με την καλύτερη εφεδρεία του: τον Κυριάκο Μητσοτάκη. 
Πράγματι, οι προβλέψεις φαίνεται να επαληθεύονται εντυπωσιακά. Όπως είχαμε αναφέρει σε προηγούμενο άρθρο ήδη από το 2016 και αμέσως μετά την εκλογή Μητσοτάκη στην ηγεσία της ΝΔ, τα αποτελέσματα των εκλογών στη ΝΔ λύνουν τα χέρια του άξονα Βρυξελλών-Βερολίνου. Οι γραφειοφασίστες των Βρυξελλών και το διευθυντήριο του Βερολίνου έχουν τώρα μια πρώτης τάξεως εφεδρεία σε περίπτωση που τα πράγματα "στραβώσουν" με την σημερινή κυβέρνηση.  
Ήδη, η κυβέρνηση ΣΥΡΙΖΑ έδωσε κάποια μικρά σημάδια ανυπακοής ενάντια στη λιτότητα που επιβάλλει το ιερατείο, ρέποντας 'επικίνδυνα' προς μια πιο φιλολαϊκή πολιτική. Δεν είναι τυχαίο φυσικά ότι τα πρώτα αυτά σημάδια άρχισαν να γίνονται ορατά μόλις η χώρα βγήκε από το πρόγραμμα επιτήρησης που επέβαλε η Τρό…

Arms industry lobby likely among the forces behind the unthinkable BDS banning in Germany

globinfo freexchange

Recently, the German parliament passed an unprecedented legislation through which the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) is now considered illegal!

As Sharmini Peries of the Real News reported:

The German parliament (Bundestag), has just passed an unprecedented piece of legislation condemning the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement, known as BDS. They deemed BDS as anti-Semitic and illegal. This makes Germany the first and only country in the world to criminalize the BDS movement.
The legislation was passed at lightning speed in Germany. The bill itself was well kept secret until only two days before the vote. It was initially promoted by the far-right pro Israeli parties, both the neoliberal Party FDP and the racist anti-immigrant party AFD. But members of all German parties ended up supporting it, even from the far left.

Peries spoke with the Real News correspondent, Shir Hever, who gave impressive details about the peculiar circumstances un…

Trump's top hawkish neocon gives signs that the US could possibly participate in a military coup against Jeremy Corbyn

globinfo freexchange

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt held a joint press conference in London after meeting for talks in the UK capital.
Pompeo condemned what he described as the support of certain UK and US leaders for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. "It is disgusting to see leaders, not only in the United Kingdom but in the United States as well, who continue to support the murderous dictator [Nicolas] Maduro," said Pompeo.

What's disgusting is that Pompeo has gone so far as even to launch indirect threats against US/UK leaders who refuse to align with the empire's typical regime change operations against legitimate governments.

It's obvious that these warnings are targeting progressive anti-war leaders like Tulsi Gabbard, Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders.

Pompeo depicts the anxiety of the empire, as it finds more and more difficult to make countries and leaders align behind US regime change efforts. …

The prosecution of Julian Assange is an attack on our Freedom of Speech

The Intercept
The Trump Department of Justice has openly declared war on the First Amendment. And the case they have chosen to pave the way for criminally prosecuting journalists and publishers is that of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange under the Espionage Act. It is the first time since the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was enshrined in law, that the government is criminally charging a publisher for publishing truthful information.
This indictment centers around the exposure of war crimes committed by the forces of the most powerful nation on Earth. It is about publishing documents that laid bare the blackmail, the backroom deals, the threats, the lies of the U.S. government in nations across the world. It is retaliation against an organization that presented to the world video evidence of a U.S. helicopter gunship massacre on Iraqi civilians and two Reuters news journalists. 
This prosecution is revenge for publishing documents on the U.S. kill campaign in Iraq and Afgha…

Chelsea Manning proves that she is a real hero

globinfo freexchange
Outside of an Alexandria, Virginia courtroom, Chelsea Manning explained to reporters why she would refuse to testify before a second grand jury investigating Wikileaks' Julian Assange, and as a result, face jail time once again. On May 9, Manning was released from jail because the term of the last grand jury she refused to testify before expired. She was immediately subpoenaed once again—for May 16.
Her following words clearly depict that Chelsea Manning is a person with strong and solid principles and a real hero:
I will not cooperate with this or any other grand jury, so it doesn’t matter what it is, or what the case is. I’m just not going to comply or cooperate. Facing jail again, potentially today, doesn’t change my stance. The prosecutors are deliberately placing me in an impossible position: go to jail and face the prospect of being held in contempt again, or, in the alternative, foregoing my principles, the strong positions that I have, that I hold dear…

How the West’s war in Libya spurred terrorism in 14 countries

The first to suffer was Syria and since then the gruesome effects have been spreading in the region and beyond, to Africans and Europeans, writes Mark Curtis.  

by Mark Curtis 
Part 2 - Terror in Europe
After the fall of Gaddafi, IS Libya established training camps near Sabratha, which are linked to a series of terrorist attacks and plots. “Most of the blood spilled in Europe in the more spectacular attacks, using guns and bombs, really all began at the time when Katibat al-Battar went back to Libya,” Cameron Colquhoun, a former counterterrorism analyst for Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, told The New York Times. “That is where the threat trajectory to Europe began – when these men returned to Libya and had breathing space.

Salman Abedi, who blew up 22 people at a pop concert in Manchester in 2017, met with members of the Katibat al-Battar al-Libi, a faction of IS, several times in Sabratha, where he was probably trained.

Other members of the KBL were Abdelhamid A…