Uh-Oh. The WSJ is out with an article on Goldman Sachs (GS), AIG (AIG), mortgages, CDOs, CDS, subprime underwriting and just about any other damning term you want to insert. I need some time to think about the whole thing and see if there’s a way to keep taking Goldman’s side, but this one looks a bit damning.
From the WSJ:
Goldman originated or bought protection from AIG on about $33 billion of the $80 billion of U.S. mortgage assets that AIG insured during the housing boom. That is roughly twice as much asSociété Générale (OTCPK:SCGLY)and Merrill Lynch, the banks with the biggest exposure to AIG after Goldman, according an analysis of ratings-firm reports and an internal AIG document that details several financial firms’ roles in the transactions.
In Goldman’s biggest deal, it acted as a middleman between AIG and banks, taking on the risk of as much as $14 billion of mortgage-related investments. Then Goldman insured that risk with one trading partner—AIG, according to the Journal’s analysis and people familiar with the trades.
The trades yielded Goldman less than $50 million in profits, which were mostly booked from 2004 to 2006, according to a person familiar with the matter. But they piled risks onto AIG’s books, which later came to haunt the insurer and Goldman. The trades also gave Goldman a unique window into AIG’s exposure to losses on securities linked to mortgages.
When the federal government bailed out the insurer, Goldman avoided losses on its trades with AIG covering a total of $22 billion in assets.
As this onion gets peeled it’s beginning to look more and more as if the whole Street was involved in a massive con game. Consider this from the article:
A Goldman spokesman says that up until AIG was rescued by the government, the insurer “was viewed as one of the most sophisticated financial counterparties in the world. It wasn’t until the government intervened in September 2008 that the full extent of AIG’s problems became apparent.”
“What is lost in the discussion is that AIG assumed billions of dollars in risk it was unable to manage,” the Goldman spokesman added.
That’s hard to swallow. Goldman may play the game as if it were zero sum but they make damn sure that the loser in the game is someone other than Goldman. If they were indeed as intimately involved in the underwriting of the securities upon which they were purchasing protection, it stretches credulity to assume that they weren’t aware of the potential risks and perhaps more to the point the runaway insurance train that AIG had become.
If Goldman and their cohorts were truly just playing ring-around-the-rosie with all of this paper then a hammer needs to come down. It might be time to stop leaving the discovery process to journalists and call in some high level prosecutors. Trying to bury this onion would be a mistake.