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“The ugly essence of capitalism”

"The ugly essence of capitalism"

Courtesy of Tim Iacono’s The Mess That Greenspan Made

This week’s Goldman Sachs bashing comes via a New York Magazine story with the interesting artwork reproduced below. The hands look a bit large, though not menacing, the thighs and torso look seductive, and the big shoes look downright deadly.

IMAGE :  Goldman Sachs

The report itself is equally intriguing, though it seems to give up early on any attempt at the kind of shock-value pulled off by Matt Taibbi’s Rolling Stone piece, citing in the very first paragraph the "great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity" characterization of Goldman, made famous by Taibbi a few weeks ago.

How could anyone possibly top that anyway?

A few highlights…

The AIG rescue is the incident from which all other Goldman conspiracy theories spring—the original sin, in a sense, of Goldman’s current public tarring. It’s the act that first made the average man on the street sit up and say, “Hey, wait a minute. The secretary of the Treasury, who used to be the Goldman CEO, just spent $85 billion to buy a failing insurance giant that happened to owe his former firm a lot of money. Does that smell right to you?” It also seems to have the legs of a potential scandal, with Neil Barofsky, the inspector general overseeing the Troubled Asset Relief Program, conducting an audit of the buyout.



The decision that put Goldman’s reputation in play is now almost a year old. On the weekend of September 12, 2008, as the financial system shuddered and appeared to be on the verge of lurching to a halt, two Goldman Sachs men, former CEO Hank Paulson and current CEO Lloyd Blankfein, huddled with other banking heads at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to consider how to stave off disaster. Bear Stearns was dead. Merrill Lynch, run by another former Goldman man, John Thain, was in desperate need of a savior. And now Lehman Brothers was on the brink. As secretary of the Treasury, Paulson asked the banks to come up with a private-funding solution for Lehman before it imploded from lack of cash. But all the banks had been scrambling for cash reserves or strategic mergers to buffer against a rapid freeze in lending. No one was able, or willing, to help. And Paulson, a free-market purist, had made one thing clear up front: The government would not bail out the firm. Lehman Brothers, a longtime Goldman rival, prepared to declare bankruptcy, ending its 158-year run on Wall Street.



By Sunday night, Paulson realized he had an even bigger problem: the insurance giant AIG. AIG had sold billions in credit-default swaps to several major banks, what amounted to unregulated insurance on risky subprime-mortgage investments, the very ones that were bringing down the economy. As the real-estate market cratered, Standard & Poor’s was preparing to slash AIG’s credit rating, meaning AIG would be swamped with collateral calls it couldn’t pay.



As it happened, Goldman Sachs was AIG’s biggest banking client, having bought $20 billion in credit-default swaps from the insurer back in 2005. The swaps were meant to offset some real-estate investments Goldman had made, specifically a bunch of mortgage bonds it had on its books. The idea was simple: If the value of the mortgage bonds went down, the value of Goldman’s AIG swaps went up, assuring Goldman was safe from all-out losses on what it feared was an upcoming collapse in real estate. In reality, this was nothing like insurance and much more like an old-fashioned hedge.



By that weekend in September, Goldman Sachs had collected $7.5 billion from its AIG credit-default swaps but had an additional $13 billion at risk—money AIG could no longer pay. In an age in which we’ve become numb to such astronomical figures, it’s easy to forget that $13 billion was a loss that could have destroyed Goldman at that moment.

Well worth the read…

 


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