Gold In Sacks: McClatchy’s Greg Gordon Explains SEC Charges Against Goldman Sachs

McClatchy News’ Greg Gordon talks with Paul Jay of The Real News Network with his analysis of the SEC civil fraud charges against Goldman Sachs and Goldman VP Fabrice Tourre:



Real News Network – April 17, 2010

Goldman Sachs charged with fraud

McClatchy’s Greg Gordon explains SEC charges against Goldman Sachs

SEC’s Goldman charges could be just the beginning

WASHINGTON – Goldman Sachs, whose tactics exiting the collapsing subprime mortgage market have been under government scrutiny for months, now faces federal fraud charges that it duped investors into losing $1 billion on a rigged offshore deal pegged to dicey home loans.

The suit, brought Friday by the Securities and Exchange Commission, accuses Goldman and one of its vice presidents, 31-year-old Fabrice Tourre, of allowing a Wall Street hedge fund to secretly select many of the securities in the deal.

The hedge fund, Paulson & Co., then bet that those subprime mortgage securities would fail. When they did, Paulson made a $1 billion profit and investors lost more than $1 billion, nearly all their money, the complaint charges.

In an e-mail to a friend in January 2007, the complaint says, Tourre remarked that, “The whole building is about to collapse anytime now” – an apparent allusion to a plunge in the housing market that would depress the value of the mortgage securities.

The case suggests that a reinvigorated SEC, after a long lull, is pressing to hold Wall Street accountable for its role in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. People familiar with the SEC investigation of Goldman said it could expand, and a special Senate investigations panel is preparing to hold a hearing that will put Goldman under yet another magnifying glass.

Elizabeth Nowicki, a former SEC attorney who’s a visiting law professor at Boston University, called the SEC’s fraud suit “a political case as much as it is a case that they needed to bring to stop this sort of favoritism.”

“The SEC wanted to convey the message that no, they’re not sitting back on their heels,” she said. “This is going after Goldman Sachs. You can’t really go after anybody bigger than that . . . . The SEC has the stomach to follow this out, absolutely, and they’ve got a bigger incentive now that they are clearly perceived as shamed and disempowered.”

It’s still unclear whether Goldman also could face legal exposure for failing to disclose to investors in 2006 and 2007 that it had secretly bet that the housing market would collapse when it sold off more than $40 billion in securities backed by subprime mortgages. McClatchy Newspapers described those dealings in a series of articles in November and December 2009, including Goldman’s role in betting on a housing downtown in at least a dozen offshore deals that it marketed.

The company, in a terse statement, denounced the charges as “completely unfounded in law and fact,” and vowed to “vigorously contest them and defend the firm and its reputation.”

Underscoring Goldman’s stature as the world’s most prestigious investment bank, the enforcement action triggered a 126-point drop in the Dow Jones index on Wall Street. Shares of Goldman led the way, plummeting nearly 13 percent.

After the market closed, Goldman issued a second statement, saying that it lost $90 million on the transaction and that all of the involved parties were “sophisticated” investors that were well aware of the risks.

Goldman said the largest investor, ACA Capital Management, selected the securities “after a series discussions, including with Paulson & Co.” Goldman called the exchange “entirely typical.”

Sylvain Raynes, a New York expert in structured securities of the type described in the SEC charges, said the stakes are huge for Goldman.

“To lose its reputation,” he said, “Goldman does not need to be found guilty many times. They only need one instance.”

Besides naming the company as a defendant, the civil complaint accuses Tourre of concealing Paulson’s role from investors in a synthetic securities deal known as ABACUS, 2007-AC1 – one in which investors didn’t actually buy any securities.

Instead, they effectively bet that a specified bundle of home loans to marginally qualified borrowers would perform well, while Paulson took “short” positions, meaning it bet that those bonds would founder.

Paulson profited grandly from the nation’s economic collapse, taking in a total of $3.7 billion from its bets. The SEC complaint says the firm paid Goldman $15 million to assemble the deal, which Tourre was principally responsible for structuring.

The marketing materials for the investment, known as a collateralized debt obligation, told investors that ACA Management LLC, an independent third party, selected the mortgage-backed securities. The Paulson firm wasn’t mentioned.

“The product was new and complex, but the deception and conflicts are old and simple,” SEC enforcement chief Robert Khuzami said in a statement. “Goldman wrongly permitted a client that was betting against the mortgage market to heavily influence which mortgage securities to include in an investment portfolio, while telling other investors that the securities were selected by an independent, objective third party.”

The deal, one of about two dozen similar bundles in the ABACUS series, closed on April 26, 2007. Within six months, 83 percent of the mortgage-backed securities in the bundle had been downgraded and 27 percent were placed on negative watch by Wall Street ratings agencies, the complaint says.

By the following Jan. 29, it says, 99 percent of the portfolio had been downgraded, costing investors more than $1 billion.

Khuzami said that the Paulson firm, which isn’t affiliated with former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, wasn’t charged because it didn’t mislead investors.

However, the complaint charges that Goldman and Tourre “knew that it would be difficult, if not impossible,” to find investors for a synthetic CDO if they disclosed that a short player, such as Paulson, had a significant role in selecting the securities. Thus, they sought a third party for that role and approached ACA, calling it “important that we can use ACA’s branding” in an internal e-mail.

The complaint quoted Tourre, then 28, as saying in a Jan. 27, 2007 e-mail to a friend that was written in French and English: “More and more leverage in the system, The whole building is about to collapse anytime now . . . . Only potential survivor, the fabulous Fab(rice Tourre) . . . standing in the middle of all of these complex, highly leveraged, exotic trades he created without necessarily understanding all of the implications of those monstruosities (sic)!!!”

A Feb. 11, 2007 e-mail to Tourre from the unidentified head of Goldman’s structured product correlation trading desk said, “the cdo biz is dead we don’t have a lot of time left,” according to the complaint.

Paulson said in a statement that, while it bought credit protection from Goldman via the ABACUS deals, “We were not involved in the marketing of any ABACUS products.”

It said that ACA “had sole authority over the selection” of all securities in the deal, noting that two Wall Street ratings agencies – Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s – gave them Triple A grades, the highest investment rating.

Both Moody’s and S&P have suffered tremendous damage to their reputations as a result of issuing favorable ratings to pools of U.S. mortgages that turned out to be junk.

The SEC said the only other investor in the ABACUS deal, IKB, a commercial bank in Dusseldorf, Germany, lost nearly all of the $150 million it invested. Goldman said the largest investor, ACA Capital Management, put up $951 million. ACA lost nearly all the money.

Friday’s charges were the first to be filed by the SEC’s Structured and New Products Unit, formed to pursue abuses in highly sophisticated deals.

Many of these deals are sliced according to risk, with investors who take the greatest risk receiving the highest yield. In deals that were partially or entirely synthetic, Goldman or some of its clients would profit if the securities soured.

Gary Kopff, an expert in mortgage securities who’s studied Goldman’s role in betting against investors in deals it marketed though the Cayman Islands, said that, “They manifest, in my opinion, the same misconduct that the SEC asserts occurred in the ABACUS deal.”

Goldman created a structured product correlation trading desk in late 2004 or early 2005. A memo describing the ABACUS 2007-AC1 transaction to the company’s Mortgage Capital Committee on March 12, 2007, said that the “ability to structure and execute complicated transactions to meet multiple clients’ needs and objectives is key for our franchise,” the SEC complaint says.

Executing the deal “and others like it helps position Goldman to compete more aggressively in the growing market for synthetics written on structured products,” the e-mail said.

According to the complaint, Paulson came to believe that the underlying securities in the ABACUS 2007-AC1 deal “would become worthless.”

In late 2006 and early 2007, it charges, Paulson identified more than 100 mortgage bonds that it expected to collapse, favoring those backed by loans to borrowers with low credit scores, adjustable rate mortgages and located in overheated real estate markets such as Arizona, California, Florida and Nevada.

In early January, Tourre forwarded a list of 123 mortgage-backed bonds under the heading “Paulson Portfolio,” leading to negotiations among Paulson, Goldman and ACA over the final portfolio, which included a sizable number of those selected by Paulson.

Kevin G. Hall and Marisa Taylor contributed.

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    • Edger on April 17, 2010 at 4:54 pm
      Author

    Stuart Carlson

    © Stuart Carlson

  1. then he must give up (or be disgorged of profit) $1 billion.  With help like Goldman Sachs its no wonder this guy made billions and billions of dollars off of subprime mortgage market.    

    • Edger on April 17, 2010 at 5:29 pm
      Author

    SEC Charges Goldman Sachs With Fraud in Structuring and Marketing of CDO Tied to Subprime Mortgages

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    2010-59

    Washington, D.C., April 16, 2010 – The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged Goldman, Sachs & Co. and one of its vice presidents for defrauding investors by misstating and omitting key facts about a financial product tied to subprime mortgages as the U.S. housing market was beginning to falter.

    Additional Materials

    The SEC alleges that Goldman Sachs structured and marketed a synthetic collateralized debt obligation (CDO) that hinged on the performance of subprime residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS). Goldman Sachs failed to disclose to investors vital information about the CDO, in particular the role that a major hedge fund played in the portfolio selection process and the fact that the hedge fund had taken a short position against the CDO.

    “The product was new and complex but the deception and conflicts are old and simple,” said Robert Khuzami, Director of the Division of Enforcement. “Goldman wrongly permitted a client that was betting against the mortgage market to heavily influence which mortgage securities to include in an investment portfolio, while telling other investors that the securities were selected by an independent, objective third party.”

    Kenneth Lench, Chief of the SEC’s Structured and New Products Unit, added, “The SEC continues to investigate the practices of investment banks and others involved in the securitization of complex financial products tied to the U.S. housing market as it was beginning to show signs of distress.”

    The SEC alleges that one of the world’s largest hedge funds, Paulson & Co., paid Goldman Sachs to structure a transaction in which Paulson & Co. could take short positions against mortgage securities chosen by Paulson & Co. based on a belief that the securities would experience credit events.

    According to the SEC’s complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the marketing materials for the CDO known as ABACUS 2007-AC1 (ABACUS) all represented that the RMBS portfolio underlying the CDO was selected by ACA Management LLC (ACA), a third party with expertise in analyzing credit risk in RMBS. The SEC alleges that undisclosed in the marketing materials and unbeknownst to investors, the Paulson & Co. hedge fund, which was poised to benefit if the RMBS defaulted, played a significant role in selecting which RMBS should make up the portfolio.

    The SEC’s complaint alleges that after participating in the portfolio selection, Paulson & Co. effectively shorted the RMBS portfolio it helped select by entering into credit default swaps (CDS) with Goldman Sachs to buy protection on specific layers of the ABACUS capital structure. Given that financial short interest, Paulson & Co. had an economic incentive to select RMBS that it expected to experience credit events in the near future. Goldman Sachs did not disclose Paulson & Co.’s short position or its role in the collateral selection process in the term sheet, flip book, offering memorandum, or other marketing materials provided to investors.

    The SEC alleges that Goldman Sachs Vice President Fabrice Tourre was principally responsible for ABACUS 2007-AC1. Tourre structured the transaction, prepared the marketing materials, and communicated directly with investors. Tourre allegedly knew of Paulson & Co.’s undisclosed short interest and role in the collateral selection process. In addition, he misled ACA into believing that Paulson & Co. invested approximately $200 million in the equity of ABACUS, indicating that Paulson & Co.’s interests in the collateral selection process were closely aligned with ACA’s interests. In reality, however, their interests were sharply conflicting.

    According to the SEC’s complaint, the deal closed on April 26, 2007, and Paulson & Co. paid Goldman Sachs approximately $15 million for structuring and marketing ABACUS. By Oct. 24, 2007, 83 percent of the RMBS in the ABACUS portfolio had been downgraded and 17 percent were on negative watch. By Jan. 29, 2008, 99 percent of the portfolio had been downgraded.

    Investors in the liabilities of ABACUS are alleged to have lost more than $1 billion.

    The SEC’s complaint charges Goldman Sachs and Tourre with violations of Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and Exchange Act Rule 10b-5. The Commission seeks injunctive relief, disgorgement of profits, prejudgment interest, and financial penalties.

    # # #

    For more information about this enforcement action, contact:

    Lorin L. Reisner

    Deputy Director, SEC Enforcement Division

    (202) 551-4787

    Kenneth R. Lench

    Chief, Structured and New Products Unit, SEC Enforcement Division

    (202) 551-4938

    Reid A. Muoio

    Deputy Chief, Structured and New Products Unit, SEC Enforcement Division

    (202) 551-4488

    http://www.sec.gov/news/press/2010/2010-59.htm

    Marian Wang also writes friday at ProPublica:

    According to the SEC, Goldman Sachs knew about the hedge fund’s bets, knew it played a significant role in choosing the assets in the portfolio, and yet did not tell investors about it. (Goldman Sachs has called the SEC’s accusations “completely unfounded in law and fact.” And in another more detailed statement, it said it “did not structure a portfolio that was designed to lose money.”)

    As we reported at ProPublica last week, many other major investment banks were doing a similar thing.

    Investment banks including JPMorgan Chase, Merrill Lynch (now part of Bank of America), Citigroup, Deutsche Bank and UBS also created CDOs that a hedge fund named Magnetar was both helping create and betting would fail. Those investment banks marketed and sold the CDOs to investors without disclosing Magnetar’s role or the hedge fund’s interests.

    Here is a list of the banks that were involved in Magnetar deals, along with links to many of the prospectuses on the deals, which skip over Magnetar’s role. In all, investment banks created at least 30 CDOs with Magnetar, worth roughly $40 billion overall. Goldman’s 25 Abacus CDOs — one of which is the basis of the SEC’s lawsuit — amounted to $10.9 billion.

    [snip]

    We’ve called the major banks involved in Magnetar CDO deals to see if they were concerned about similar lawsuits. Thus far, Bank of America, Citigroup, Deutsche, Wells Fargo (which bought Wachovia) and UBS have responded and have all declined our requests for comment. Here is Magnetar’s response to our original reporting.

    Read ProPublica’s full Magnetar story here:

    The Magnetar Trade: How One Hedge Fund Helped Keep the Bubble Going

  2. McClatchy has been excellent in their coverage of GS this year. One of the statements near the end of the clip seems crucial to me. Will this be a one day propaganda event tied into Obama’s financial reform plan, or will this be something more durable that leads to further enforcement of the financial industry? I expect the former, but really wish we’d see the latter happen.

    If the SEC only ends up slapping the wrist of Goldman and pokes a stick at only one of its bad apples, Tourre, letting GS on the whole, JP Morgan and the other bad actors skate, then it will be short term gain and high risk and longer term pain for the rest of us on this bus. The rot is throughout the entire apple tree, down to its roots, not just in the individual fruits. What this country really needs is an entirely new orchard managed by principles of permaculture. A girl can dream, no?

    • Xanthe on April 17, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    I’ll read again with more concentration.

    Dylan Rattigan was all over this yesterday and did one of his amusing metaphors.  Well, amusing seems the wrong word with this pile of excrement so let’s say cleverly wicked.

    • Xanthe on April 17, 2010 at 7:43 pm

    Although Goldman has said that all these players are “big guys” and sophisticated investors, and that they were the only ones hurt – but isn’t there always residual damage downward in schemes like this?  Is it true we were bailing out European banks, for instance?  Did German taxpayers bail out the bank, etc.?  curious –    

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  3. enforce laws. It is now a criminal syndicate: DOJ, Treasury et.al. A protection racket extraordinaire with a vow of silence.

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