It simply amazes me that those who are cheerleading the seeming return of Wall Street to health overlook the extensive, hydra-headed subsidies they’ve received and continue to receive. The media has bought and is touting the line, “Hey, they (more accurately some) paid back the TARP, so what’s the beef?”
Let us consider the other forms of support:
Bailout of AIG, in which collateral payments went directly to counterparties, particularly Goldman, which was most heavily exposed. The new urban legend about the firm is that it has good risk controls. Getting in that deeply to one counterparty is clear evidence of deficient risk controls. Recall the firm also got a costly lifeline from Warren Buffet on the eve of the TARP infusion. The firm most assuredly on the ropes last year and would not be around ex extraordinary assistance.
FDIC guaranteed bond issues. Has anyone paid those back?
ZIRP-level interest rates
A list too long to keep track of of Fed “goose the market” special facilities
We’ve inveighed along these lines elsewhere. The industry has gone from a supposed bastion of capitalism to the poster child of Mussolini-style corpocracy.
From Denninger (hat tip Richard R):
Let’s dispense with this sort of bilge from The Washington Post right here:
Money can’t buy love? For proof, look no further than Goldman Sachs. Last week, the firm reported a spectacular quarterly profit — close to $3.5 billion for the bank and about $385,000 in compensation for each employee for the first half of the year — and right on cue, the braying began for the heads of the Goldmanites. Earlier this month, Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, in a comprehensive exercise in conspiracy mongering, primed the pump of outrage with his article “The Great American Bubble Machine.” Now a chorus of supporters has chimed in, shocked that in a recession the evil Goldman could turn such profit.
I know nobody that objects to making a profit.
I know a lot of people who object to theft.
What began as an effort to keep the financial industry from repeating its mistakes has turned into, as at other points in history, an attack on the idea of trading profit. It is no longer enough that the banks should be reformed; the opportunity to make this kind of profit should be eliminated.
That’s an outrageously false statement.
Many in the community, myself included, object strenuously to a poker player who has an extra set of aces up his or her sleeve. We also object to a casino capitalist model where the winnings are kept but the losses are forced onto someone else.
And that, dear reader, is what Goldman and the rest of the big banks have been doing for the last two years.
Over the last several years Goldman Sachs entered into a metric ton worth of credit default swaps with AIG, even though AIG was incapable of paying off on those swaps. They did so as the “brightest people in the room”, that is, either knowing that AIG was incapable of covering the bet or simply not caring that AIG could not cover the bet.
These transactions allowed Goldman (and the other banks who engaged in them) to hold “assets” on their books at intentionally-inflated values – that is, at demonstrably more than those “assets” were actually worth in the market, under the rubric that should their value fall Goldman would be able to “recover” under their insurance policies (the CDS.)
But in point of fact these transactions were never any good, because AIG didn’t have the money to pay.
When this became evident Goldman (and others) managed to connive the government into “saving” AIG by throwing more than $100 billion dollars of taxpayer money into the firm. About $13 billion of that went directly to Goldman Sachs to “pay off” those contracts. Billions more went to other institutions, including banks in Europe.
In doing this, Goldman and these other banks forced the taxpayer to eat their bad bet – that is, their loss. That $13 billion was in fact unearned – they had no right to it, as AIG was in fact insolvent and they would have collected zero had the firm gone into bankruptcy. Goldman and these other banks were either unable or unwilling to rescue the firm themselves, so through the use of political influence peddling they got the taxpayer to do it for them, thereby collecting on a transaction that they either knew or should have known had no chance of being paid off at the time they entered into it.
Having done this, they placed yet more bets. This time they won those bets, and made a “profit.” But they would have never had the capital to place the bets but for the taxpayer bailing them out in the first place, as they would have likely gone under last fall.
The real objection of Taibbi and others is that Goldman, except for one bad quarter at the nadir of the financial crisis, has turned a profit. Big profit.
No, the real objection of Taibbi and others (myself included) is that Goldman managed to steal $13 billion dollars of American Taxpayer money, without which they would not exist today. Having stolen that money through claims of imminent financial collapse made by their former head, Henry Paulson, at their urging, they now have speculated with that taxpayer money and kept the proceeds.
Nobody would object were Goldman to return not only their “TARP” money but also the entirety of the “passthrough” benefits they have received, specifically but not exclusively the $13 billion dollars that was funneled through AIG to them.
But if Goldman had done that, they would have posted a huge loss, and in addition would not have had the money to repay TARP.
Nobody I am aware of cares if a firm is able to turn a legitimate profit through their actions in the market. We object not to profit, but to blatant chiseling of the taxpayer after a company or individual makes a bad bet due to their own incompetence or willful blindness, then demands that the taxpayer cover it, yet when their bets turn out well, they keep the money and hand it to their “associates.”
That’s robbery, and I and others will continue to point it out until the shills who advocate for same and try to excuse it, along with Goldman themselves, are held to account.
BRAVO…! I'm right there with you…. Pitchfork in hand…;-)
Evil fucking gnomes. Evil.
The potential for conflict of interest by Paulson seems pretty huge. I have always wondered what would have happened if Paulson would not have been able to panic Bush II and the rest of the federal politicians into the bailouts. If the feds had not bailed out the TBTF financial institutions, where would we be today? Would we be worse off or better off?
What has also struck me is that it seems to be the same guys running the government's financial show no matter who holds the presidency. Geithner and Bernanke have both served under both R and D presidents. Philosophically, Summers could easily serve under an R president.
It also amazed me that neither candidate for president in 2008 (i.e. McCain or Obama) knew diddly about economics/finance. That guaranteed that whoever won the election would have to depend heavily on his advisors. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.
Repaying passthru money seems like a great idea but maybe with a slight modification. If, for example, Goldman repays AIG's $13B, then AIG is still on the hook to repay that $13B to Goldman.
Isn't the strategy of the TBTF financial institutions an example of mega moral hazard? Didn't bailing them out just encourage them to keep on betting our money?
Yves Smith: That's robbery, and I and others will continue to point it out until the shills who advocate for same and try to excuse it, along with Goldman themselves, are held to account.
I hope your alias isn't Doña Quixote, because I agree wholeheartedly.
Hey, if $28B in FDIC guarantees isn't a subsidy, why can't I get a lousy $10M in guarantees from the FDIC? I promise I'll convert myself into a bank holding company.
won’t some of these profits go to the Fed since Goldman is a stockholder?
Let me go a step beyond: by confiscating money (through future taxes) the government cut into the earning and profits of both individuals and businesses for many years to come to bail out the banks.
If these banks are truly now profitable (and I mean IF), the reasonable thing to do now is to cut into that profit to bail out the people who bailed out the banks. It is simple fairness.
Even Paulson never made the claim that his purpose was to get big profits for the banks… only to buy survival. He overshot the mark, it seems.
Simple fairness: confiscate bank profits, bail out the next group that is threatened.
While I agree with the sentiment, that quote is from Denninger.
Goldman Sachs has managed to remake the United States in the image of Mexico.
Here's how this marvelous "innovation" works: Those with political power win, those without political power lose. It's as simple as that.
If I understand all I have read over the past 6 months on the issue, GS received 100 cents on the dollar for those contracts. Had AIG entered into bankruptcy, GS might have received pennies on the dollar. One thing is for sure, there would have been a huge hit on their balance sheet that could not have been masked like they did with the first quarter earnings announcement.
The Obama administration is sanctioning securities fraud. He's a tool of JP's Goldan Sack.
Thanks for the information.
I agree with you Yves.
At one point last winter Goldman's 5% bonds maturing 1-15-11 were trading at 9% yield-to-maturity, a huge spread over treasuries.
Unable to rollover their debts at non-ruinous interest rates, Goldman's situation became akin to Bear Stearns'.
But Bear Stearns was not offered the opportunity to issue debt with the FDIC's guarantee.
My question is: What fee did Goldman (and the other issuers) pay to receive the FDIC's imprimatur?
What would the cost of that insurance have been if it could have been bought from a private entity, like Lloyds of London or from a sovereign-wealth fund?
The debate as to what Goldman owes the public should revolve around the calculation of the option-value of the FDIC insurance they bought.
My hunch is that the FDIC, like AIG, insured Goldman (and the others) at grossly inexpensive prices.
But to settle accounts we need an estimate of the fair-market value of the FDIC's insurance policy at the time it was issued.
Couldn't the private-market value of the FDIC's insurance be determined by reference to the credit-default-swaps market in Goldman's bonds?
What would Bear Stearns have been willing to pay for the FDIC's imprimatur?
just in case you missed Taibbi's excellent follow-up to his squid article on the many sources of Goldman Sachs 'earnings' since perpetrating the (my words) greatest American heist of all times.
Bravo from me too. No one has yet been able to show me any reason Goldman should exist. It serves no market function at all. It is instead pumping up markets (stock and commodities) on the one hand and then draining money from them and the wider economy. It has heavily penetrated government and uses it to backstop its ongoing speculations. Unsurprisingly, even its stockholders get stiffed. Most of the profits from its predations go to its employees, not investors.
What Goldman reminds me of more than anything else is Enron. The boys at Enron were once too sold to us as the brightest guys in the room, until it came out that they were simply the most brazen swindlers in it. I think that any investor who trades in a market where Goldman has a major position is begging to be ripped off. Goldman's profits do not come from value added to the market but from money taken from other investors.
Narratives or lines as Yves points out are important. I remember how a few months ago we were told that there were no more freestanding investment banks and that era was over. Even though Goldman had only the most minor of banking operations it nevertheless was given bankholding company status. Its freewheeling speculative ways would be curtailed. There would be scrutiny and oversight. Has anyone seen any of this oversight? Has anyone seen Goldman renounce its speculative ways? Can anyone explain how a company whose whole working force and mode of operation were geared to speculation were seriously expected to do anything else?
As for the WaPo, it has been drafting off its connection to the Watergate story for decades. What gets forgotten is that Watergate was a story that the paper fell into. Ben Bradlee the editor could have scotched the story (as could have Katherine Graham the publisher) and we would never have heard of Woodward and Bernstein. Even so, Bradlee kept them on a tight leash with relatively few resources. The whole myth of hardnosed investigative journalism was just that a myth, as Woodward's subsequent career has abundantly and repeatedly made clear. The truth is even back then the paper was more Sally Quinn then Ben Bradlee. Over time, it has just become more so. Its structure may have become more corporate reflecting the media consolidation of recent decades but in content it has become more and more a Beltway rag, a purveyor and recycler of whatever the current Conventional Wisdom is. Its editorial page under Fred Hiatt has become a narcissistic exercise in literary masturbation. With only a few exceptions, like Dana Priest, its news side fares no better preferring to regurgitate spin rather than report critically. The recent pay-to-play scandal involving the current publisher Katherine Weymouth was surprising only in that anyone was surprised by it. The death of Walter Cronkite a couple of days ago reminds us that once, however compromised it might have been, we had a news media. Now we only have the “media”. And in this new newsless environment, a WaPo writer’s uncritical cheerleading the latest depredations of a major economic villain like Goldman Sachs is to be expected. It is also why we have a blogosphere, to replace the news function the media have abdicated.
Yves Smith: Alex, While I agree with the sentiment, that quote is from Denninger.
Oops – I gotta pay more attention to the indents. Either way, I hope Doña Smith and Don Denninger are inappropriate pseudonyms. Keep up the fight!
Even the Post's own reporters don't support Geiman's column. In his news story about Goldman's earnings Binyamin Appelbaum even put some skepticism in the lead: “… as the decimation of its Wall Street rivals allowed the investment bank to romp across the financial landscape, buying low and selling high.”
Also, although Goldman had repaid its $10 billion bailout Applebaum pointed out the company “has not disclosed to what extent it continues to rely on other federal rescue programs, such as borrowing from the Federal Reserve.”
I believe that gs and the other tbtf's took the 13 billion and tarp and bought up the oil futures contracts, between them or gs alone they have enough money to control the price of oil. It went from about 40 to 70 during that time while world oil demand was falling? Remember when at@t was to big? Back when we had some form of representitive gov?
It all just keeps getting sillier: after recently booking massive trading profits, Goldman's chief US investment strategist just released his forecast of a 15% increase in the S&P 500 for the end of the year. The media is lapping it up as usual, without even a hint that this might be, uhmm, just a tad self-serving.
Hello!? Has everyone gone insane?
Sadly, this looks to be an absurd self-fulfilling prophecy as investors take this to mean GS will somehow drive prices up 15% (even if they are really just positioning to offload the hope hype).
I think it is now very clear that Obama and co. had a clear strategy to save the economy. Unfortunately for many of us, by 'economy' they mean financial services.
Financial capitalism is dead, long live casino capitalism.
How is this for market support:
Article: "U.S. Rescue May Reach $23.7 Trillion"
Excerpt: " July 20 (Bloomberg) — U.S. taxpayers may be on the hook for as much as $23.7 trillion to bail out financial companies, according to Neil Barofsky, special inspector general for the Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program."
…the sky is falling.
Video: "Do We Need Manufacturing?
Description: Can the United States prosper and participate successfully in international trade with an economy based mainly on services and without manufacturing?
Ralph Gomory (formerly of IBM), one of America's leading economic thinkers, challenges the conventional wisdom about the post-industrial economy. Boldly clarifying classic economic analysis, Gomory explains why manufacturing continues to be essential to our prosperity.
I actually think Denninger is soft-pedaling this to make his point stronger.
It is not just the bailout. I actually *do* object to this level of profit. It is not likely in a truly competitive market that these kinds of outsized gains (whether from IB or trading) should be possible. The *only* way that you can consistently achieve $700k of compensation per employee per year (vast multiples of the average worker in the US) in such a large enterprise is through monopolistic behavior or oligopolistic characteristics in your market (or if you constantly engage in bets with a risk profile of heads-I-win-tails-you-lose…implicit government backstops have always aided them). I don't think this is like the NBA, in which there are natural structural barriers to entry to the market, and even if it is, it just means we should tax the hell out of them.
I'm sure the wonderful and beneficial Goldman and colleagues will now use these legitimate and salutary profits to help their cheerleaders in the corporate media, in that media's financial travail..
What's that you say? For all the media's whoredom, they keep hemorrhaging corporate advertising revenue?
Hmm, WaPo and friends, it seems your whoring just hasn't been good enough to receive the gratitude and reward you no doubt think you deserve.
Well, keep trying, hagged-out old whore. Maybe if you pray hard enough one of your old corporate sugar daddies, the ones who dropped you like the filthy soiled rag you are, will throw you a few nickels.
Re manufacturing, from the the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
(You create your own tables)
Goods producing jobs:
24.543 million January 2001
20.127 million January 2009
18.815 million June 2009
January 2001-January 2009 loss: 4.416 million 18%
January 2009-June 2009 loss: 1.312 million 5.3% further from January 2001 base
17.114 million January 2001
12.640 million January 2009
11.854 million June 2009
January 2001-January 2009 loss: 4.474 million 26.1%
January 2009-June 2009 loss: .786 million 4.6% further from January 2001 base
Manufacturing is a subset of goods-producing. The reason that the drop in manufacturing is bigger than in goods-producing as a whole is because there were job increases in oil, coal, and industry support jobs for these. The take home message here is that we have lost 23% of goods-producing jobs in this country in the last 8 1/2 years and 30% of manufacturing in the same time period. This represents a fairly rapid rate of de-industrialization. Greater productivity does not even begin to touch numbers like these.
In his video, Ralph Gomory points out that our export of services would have to double and triple to keep up with our imports in good times. The largest component of "services" is tourism, so, Gomory passionately hopes that America is not betting its future prosperity on tourism.
Bluntly put, the whole meme about services being our way out of all this mess is just more think-tank/focus-group propaganda.
Pitchfork ready? Torch ready? On to 85 Broad Street!
Thanks for your continued scrutiny and commentary on this, Yves. If only we had an independent watchdog press corps that would make your efforts unnecessary.
A more professional look at GS that points out the missing December 08' numbers of GS accounting.
I can't believe that the banksters and their lackys in government have seemingly spun the economic carousel again but this bubble will be short lived and will be called the dollar bubble.
Get them while you can and spend them while they are worth something.
Thanks for your continued scrutiny and commentary on this, Yves. If only we had an independent watchdog press corps that would make your efforts unnecessary.
I'm a bit baffled by this. Why should criticizing the media be only the responsibility of a specific organization and not one of everyone and anyone who reads news?
PEOPLE, IT'S $19B THAT GS STOLE THROUGH AIG.
GET THE NUMBERS RIGHT!!
The article by Michael Lewis that Yves linked to is really interesting. It explains the central role that AIG played in the genesis of this financial fiasco. AIG finally realized that bundling the subprime loans into AAA rated securities was risky well before the market blew up.
Lewis explains that AIG's inability to profit from that realization stems from the incompetence/insecurity of their financial products manager. This guy was not only incompetent but was a tyrant who discouraged feedback/bad news from his brilliant workers (aka quants).
The Greeks realized 1000's of years ago that hubris was the most likely reason for disaster. It still is.
Goldman Sachs realized earlier than almost everybody else the danger of the AAA rated securities based on subprime mortgages. Not only did they try to hedge their risk via AIG CDS's but they also hedged on AIG's survival. I guess this means GS thought AIG might not survive if the whole USA real estate market went down at the same time.
In the end GS probably thought TBTF and political connections would be their ultimate hedges (and they were right). By focusing public attention on bailing out AIG, they deflected attention from GS.
One of the most important questions, it seems to me, is how do we reduce moral hazard in our financial industry? A federal bailout is a step in the wrong direction.
Obama is either blind or corrupt (maybe stupid) and if Goldman walks away with the loot, assume that logically, Obama is as crooked as Paulson.
We reduce moral hazard by Shock-and-Awe prosecutions of the hundreds of criminals responsible for committing the greatest financial crimes in U.S. history. By coast-to-coast arrests, from Countrywide to Goldman Sachs and every one in between. By RICO prosecutions and mass trials in style of the Maxiprocesso (Maxi Trial) of the Mafia in Sicily during the mid-1980s that resulted in hundreds of defendants convicted. By RICO confiscations of the hundreds of billions in illegal "profits" from the criminal enterprises of the Wall Street Mafia.
RICO keeps coming to my mind too. There is one thing that stands in the way of it.
The banks are still not admitting they were robbed, they never have, and never will. This the the "we can't get what it is worth for it" quote that the PPIP was proposed to rectify.
Is BoA really gonna come out and say that all of the stuff they were buying from Goldman is crap and worthless? Not if they want to keep being a bank.
The fed is a huge holder of the crap, aka Maiden Lane, they would have a very good case against whoever put it together. I don't think we are going to see that criminal trial.
It just like a domestic dispute, if she says she wasn't hit, was their a crime? How do you prosecute without a witness.
I have seen and read through RICO cases before. Almost anything (uncharged prior criminal acts) can be admitted as evidence, but witnesses are necessary.
Excess and crash are in ingrained in capitalism. Let's abolish capitalism and create something better.
Thinking about RICO more….
That could be the point of not letting the treasury buy the crap. Once they buy the crap they would probably have standing to sue.
Asset guarantees and lending against this stuff (treasury or FDIC) all leave the federal government holding it, not OWNING it. I think this is a very important distinction.
The only ones who actually own any of the stuff are the Fed. The fed is not part of the federal government for the purpose of this argument. They would never enter into a legal match with its member banks.
It really is a perfect criminal conspiracy, hyper-rationality taken to the extreme.
Bob – It's about the bankers themselves commiting various crimes: banking fraud, investor fraud, accounting fraud, stock holder fraud, cover-ups, bank and investment bank extortion of federal government, conspiracy with rating agencies and mortgage companies to defraud defraud investors, pension funds, municipal funds, etc.
It takes only one prosecutor to investigate just one crime, and follow the money and the connected crimes, and bring down the entire criminal enterprise using RICO prosecution. A tough prosecutor will have no trouble getting lots of witnesses. These white-collar criminals are softies who will crumble like feta cheese. Once the prosecutor drops the first weak link, the rats will trample over each other to be witnesses for the prosecution in hopes of leniency. This is a target rich environment, and the criminal activities (fraud, Ponzi schemes, extortion, looting of treasury and banks, cover-ups, etc.) are continuing today.
You have to prove the value is inflated by the people who own it. As long as they are the ones placing the value on this stuff, and buying and selling the stuff, there is no real price discovery.
If I sell you a fart for 200 million, and then you hold that fart on your balance sheet at 200 million, then sell it to BoA for 200 million, where was the crime committed?
It serves no one's interest to admit that the fart is worth nothing.
Its even harder to prove that fart is worth nothing when Mr. Blankfien comes in and testifies that the fart is indeed a very valuable, marketable security. He just earned 50 million on it while he was talking about it.
In the meantime, ZIRP continues to bolster real income within that same balance sheet. Pretty soon (2-5 years) they will no doubt have to write the value down, but only after 'pressure from regulators' and a few out of court legal settlements that no one ever gets to see the details of.
A single prosecutor is no match for the legal will of the banks. All for one, one for all.
we are in a time of unprecedented economic decline – sorry i don't buy the inflation argument
most developed country governments are running unprecedented and unsustainable deficits – they are the ones that need a 'bail-out' if we are to truly maintain social security checks, healthcare and other public services during this time of drastically diminished tax collections
if GS felt any sense of fidelity towards the institutions (ie the taxpayer) that came to its rescue, surely it should give more than its compensation budget back to Govt authorities – altho my concern is the Govt will find another way to recycle this back to the financial sector
how come, GS pays over $6bn in comp for 2Q 09 but only $2bn in taxes?
something's wrong, and GS should be the first to make amends here for society's benefit
"let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship,support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of Goldman Sachs"
Some history buffs will quibble, but this is what he meant to say.
"poster child of Mussolini-style corpocracy"? Isn't there another name for this?
I'm not sure that GS did anything illegal (if they did, what was it?). Maybe their biggest crime is that they understand how to play this corrupt game better than anybody else.
Focusing all this hate on the financial industry distracts attention away from the essentially corrupt relationship between the politicians and the TBTF financiers. The politicians know that if they bail out the TBTF financiers (or give them other legislative gifts), they will get enormous campaign contributions. The TBTF financiers know that they will get a 1000 to 1 return on their political contributions. Maybe only individuals (i.e. not organizations) should be permitted to make campaign contributions (and the size of those contributions should be capped).
If the politicians don't bail out the TBTF financiers, we eliminate a huge source of moral hazard. Isn't that what we should be focusing on? What would have happened if there were no bailouts? Would the economy have been irretrievably screwed or would it have recovered expeditiously? I don't know. At least the TBTF financiers would be less motivated to take imprudent risks.
What other fundamental changes do we need to make to reduce corruption in our financial system? The simple answer is to regulate it more tightly but how to do this without providing the politicians more opportunities to cheat? What is the effective way to reduce financial corruption without triggering the law of unintended consequences?
Maybe we should take a bounty driven approach to regulation. Regulators would get a cut of the violations they find. For example, if the cut was 1%, a regulator would get $1M if he found a $100M transgression. We would open the market for regulators to anybody who could pass an entrance test that covered both knowledge and criminal record. To facilitate auditing, companies would be required to standardize their reports in XML format (maybe XBRL?) and open source software for analyzing this data would be available for free.
The idea is to decrease the probability of regulatory capture and to increase the brainpower of the regulators.
There was a time when there where 40 plus primary dealer banks. Today there are a mere 16 with a possible addition of 1 or 2 in the works. The Treasury and the Fed are severly limited in their options for attempting to control the money supply, ineterst rates and the general level of the economy. In large part, Goldman's enormous first quarter profits are driven by the absence of Bear Stearns and Lehman. Electronic trading is also an important factor. Historically, GS has been a trading firm and not an IB. Pinging the market to discover latent buying and selling pressure comes very close to front running. BUT, the monumental event that has driven GS profits in the first quarter is the manner in which AIF has been handled. However convuleted derivative contracts may be, they are all, in essence, contingent difference contracts. Now there is a body of common law that generally holds that where the counterparty seeking perfomance does not have a direct economic interest in the underlying instrument or activity, the contract is not enforceable. There is also an ample body of fraud statutes that hold that the willful and witting sale of contracts which seller cannot perform on is a felony. Net, it is improbable that GS could have achieved its first quarter results were in not for the settlement with AIG. Is GS and evil enterprise, I think not. I think it is an opportunistic, agnostic, agile trading enterprise. Our greater concern should be the fraud that was perpetrated AIG.
As I wrote on Forbes.com last Fri:
And should have even more interesting stuff on Daily Beast in the next day or so.