28 October 2009

Tavakoli on Goldman's Lies of Omission

Lies of omission and forgetfulness are difficult to prove and even harder to prosecute. "Not that I recall" and "not to my knowledge" are favorite defense statements, adornments to a plea of inanity much favored by the corporate upper crust, made famous by Skilling and Lay. Among politicians it is known by the weighty phrase, plausible deniability.

Janet Tavakoli asks, Did Goldman Lie? One is tempted to ask, 'were their lips moving?'

But why the bluff? Why did Goldman have to pretend it was not concerned at all about AIG, even as the phone records show they were involved in intense and continuing discussions at the highest levels in the bailouts, with a unique and privileged presence in discussions with the government and the Fed in which their own place in the bailout queue must have been surely discussed? And at the time their own man was the Chairman of the NY Fed.

And as someone asked, Why pick on Goldman? Well, they seem to be at the center of everything.

No answers yet, and there may never be a way to penetrate the financial Star Chamber that is the Obama Treasury and the NY Fed. But here is some additional information worth reading.

Goldman's Lies of Omission
By Janet Tavakoli
October 28, 2009

In my opinion, David Viniar’s (CFO of Goldman Sachs) comments in the fall of 2008 were a lie, and for that matter, Lloyd Blankfein’s (CEO of Goldman Sachs) later comments to the Wall Street Journal were disingenuous.

In the context of what was happening near the time of AIG’s implosion, the key question was “What is going on between Goldman and AIG?” Their rhetoric surrounding this issue is a deft dodge. They may claim they didn’t “technically” lie, but Goldman’s business exposure to AIG posed both credit risk and reputation risk. They seem to overlook elements of the former and put insufficient value on the latter.

Goldman should have plainly stated that it was owed billions in additional collateral from AIG — after already having collected billions — due to credit default swap contracts and other trading positions. Whether or not Goldman thought its credit risk was totally hedged is a separate, albeit important issue, and I’ll get to that later.

Among the proximate causes of AIG’s failure were previous calls for collateral made by its credit default swap trading counterparties, including Goldman Sachs. They were entitled to pressure AIG on its prices and demand more collateral; I had publicly challenged AIG’s prices myself more than a year earlier. These actions gave a major push to AIG’s subsequent credit downgrade, which tripped contract triggers that AIG had unwisely permitted its more clever counterparties to insert. (The credit default swap market is not standardized.) This meant AIG had to come up with collateral equal to the entire remaining amount of the credit default swap contract.

Unfortunately, AIG was essentially bankrupt at this point and it couldn’t meet its obligations. The government could have stepped in and renegotiated its contracts. [Goldman’s “hedges” might have disputed whether a reduced payment triggered a restructuring event, if applicable, in their contracts.] But that isn’t what happened...

Click here for the rest of the story: Goldman's Lies of Omission - (pdf) Tavakoli Finance