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Jun. 18 2009 - 11:30 am | 628 views | 8 recommendations | 42 comments

The Greatest Non-Apology of All Time

“While we regret that we participated in the market euphoria and failed to raise a responsible voice, we are proud of the way our firm managed the risk it assumed on behalf of our client before and during the financial crisis,” he said.

via Goldman Regrets ‘Market Euphoria’ That Led to Crisis – DealBook Blog – NYTimes.com.

Anyone else out there find himself doubled over laughing after reading Goldman, Sachs chief Lloyd Blankfein’s “apology” for his bank’s behavior leading up to the financial crisis? Has an act of contrition ever in history been more worthless and insincere? Even Gary Ridgway did a better job of sounding genuinely sorry at his sentencing hearing — and he was a guy who had sex with dead prostitutes because it was cheaper than paying live ones.

Looking at Blankfein’s one-sentence apology, I’m struck in particular by a couple of phrases:

While we regret that we participated in the market euphoria…

Really, Lloyd? You “participated” in the market euphoria? You didn’t, I don’t know, cause the market euphoria? By almost any measurement, Goldman was a central, leading player in the subprime housing bubble story. Just yesterday I was talking to Guy Cecala at Inside Mortgage Finance, the trade publication that tracks statistics in the mortgage lending industry. He said that at the height of the boom, in 2006, Goldman Sachs underwrote $76.5 billion in mortgage-backed securities, or 7% of the entire market. Of that $76.5 billion, $29.3 billion was subprime, which is bad enough — but another $29.8 billion was what’s called “Alt-A” paper. Alt-A mortgages are characterized, mainly, by crappy documentation and lack of equity: no income verification, no asset verification, little-to-no cash down. So while “only” 38% of the mortgage-backed securities Goldman underwrote were subprime, more than three-fourths of their securities were what is called “non-prime,” ie either subprime or Alt-A. “There’s a lot of crap in there too,” says Cecala.

Let’s be clear about what that meant. These crap/sham mortgages, a lot of them adjustable-rate deals with teaser rates that featured sudden rate hikes two or three years after closing, they would never have been possible had not someone devised a method for selling them off to secondary buyers. No local bank is going to keep millions of dollars worth of Alt-A mortgages on its books, because no sensible company lends out money to very risky customers and actually keeps those loans on its balance sheet.

So this system depended almost entirely on banks like Goldman finding ways to securitize these instruments, ie chop the mortgages up into little bits, repackage them as mortgage-backed securities like CDOs and CMOs, and sell them to unsuspecting customers on the secondary market, most of them large institutional buyers like pensions and insurance companies and workers’ unions, many of them foreigners. Most of those customers were snookered into buying this stuff because they had no idea what it was: in the case of pensions and unions particularly, a lot of these customers only bought this crap because the peculiar alchemy banks like Goldman used in devising their mortgage-backed securities made radioactive mortgages look like AAA-rated investments. (Or at least they were given these ratings by Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s, ratings agencies that were financially dependent upon the very banks they were supposed to be rating — but that’s another story).

So some Dutch teachers’ union that a year before was buying ultra-safe U.S. Treasury bonds in 2006 runs into a Goldman salesman who offers them a different, “just as safe” AAA-rated investment that, at the moment anyway, just happens to be earning a much higher return than treasuries. Next thing you know, a bunch of teachers in Holland are betting their retirement nest eggs on a bunch of meth addicted “homeowners” in Texas and Arizona.

This isn’t really commerce, but much more like organized crime: it was a gigantic fraud perpetrated on the economy that wouldn’t have been possible without accomplices in the ratings agencies and regulators willing to turn a blind eye. Imagine a meat company that bred ten billion rats, fattened them on trash and sewage, ground their bodies into chuck, and then sold it all as grade-A ground beef to McDonald’s and Burger King, right under the noses of the USDA: this is exactly the same thing, only with debt instead of food. We’re eating it, they’re counting the money.

Any way you slice it, Goldman was responsible for putting tens of billions of toxic mortgages on the market, resulting in mass foreclosures, mass depletion of retirement funds, and a monstrously over-leveraged financial system that we will now all be bailing out for the next half-century or so.  All of this so that Goldman could make a few billion bucks acting as the middleman in all of these deadly transactions.

Anyway, I was also struck by this phrase:

…we are proud of the way our firm managed the risk for our clients…

First of all, generally speaking, when one apologizes for having done a bad thing (like for instance destroying the world economy), it is good form to wait at least until the end of the sentence to start bragging again.

Second of all, what is particularly obnoxious about this phrase is that Goldman is bragging about the fact that it actually made money while it was pumping the economy full of explosive leverage. While companies like Lehman and Bear were dumb enough to actually eat their own rat meat, Goldman knew what it was doing and was careful to bet against the same stuff it was selling, which makes its behavior many times worse than that of other banks, not better. I get into this more in a Rolling Stone piece coming out next week, but Goldman’s continual bragging about its mortgage hedges is one of the more obnoxious phenomena in the recent history of Wall Street, given that it was selling this shit by the ton during that same period.

Beyond that, Goldman’s “risk management” also involved buying massive hedges on its mortgage exposure from…drum roll please… AIG. In fact Goldman was AIGFP’s single largest customer; while the bank was busy flooding the world financial system with doomed mortgages, it was also busy piling bets on the back of the insurance behemoth — $20 billion worth, to be exact.  And AIG’s death spiral was triggered not so much by its bets going sour, but by companies like Goldman that demanded that AIG put up cash to show its ability to pay. These collateral calls were what killed AIG last September, and Goldman was one of those creditors pulling the trigger: what makes this fact even more obnoxious is that ex-Goldmanite Henry Paulson then stepped in and green-lighted an $80 billion taxpayer bailout. Ultimately another ex-Goldmanite named Ed Liddy was put in charge of AIG, and Goldman ended up getting paid 100 cents on the dollar for its AIG debt.

So basically Goldman helped kill AIG, necessitating a federal bailout, after which time it got paid off handsomely for bets that it certainly would not have been paid off completely for had AIG simply been liquidated. And again, AIG probably does not have a market to sell its CDS insurance to firms like Goldman, if firms like Goldman had not cooked up this insane scheme to underwrite billions upon billions of toxic debt and sell it off to secondary buyers as safe investments. Moreover AIG would not have even had this business of selling CDS insurance had not a bunch of ex-Goldman guys, in particular Bob Rubin, quietly pushed to deregulate the derivatives market back at the end of the Clinton administration.

So when Goldman says it is proud that it “managed the risk” for its clients, what it’s really saying is, “We’re proud that we kept the extreme crapness of our mortgage securities secret from everyone but our clients, and fobbed off the nightmare leverage they created on dumbass AIG and all the pensioners and teachers and other idiots who bought this stuff. Go fuck yourselves and suck on our yachts.”

There’s a much larger story about all of this coming out in the magazine next week, but in the meantime… hey, Lloyd, thanks for the apology. It makes us all feel a lot better.



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  1. collapse expand

    Matt,

    Thanks for another excellent post.

    The important question, knowing what we know now, is what to do to make institutions like Goldman Sachs accountable. I don’t see anything from the Obama administration that makes me think they will crack down on Goldman Sachs (Obama’s largest campaign contributor, no?) or any other firm that had a hand in fucking us all over so very hard.

  2. collapse expand

    I think you make a great point about not bragging while apologizing. I want to put a finer point on the fact that what they regret and what they are proud of are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the market euphoria was absolutely necessary for them to “[manage] the risk” in the way that they did, making money for their clients and shareholders.

    Can you regret an action, but be proud of its intended consequences? I guess so: “I’m sorry I had to kill you, but I’m glad I was able to fuck your wife afterward.”

  3. collapse expand

    Jesus, you’re better at this than everybody. Can’t wait for the mag to come out.

  4. collapse expand

    Finally, someone is connecting the dots here. Thanks Matt.

    It’s as if the financial system was a great big ponzi scheme. [Hmmm? If it quacks like a duck...]

    I’m glad you’re mentioning the blatant ickyness [there's really not an apt word] of the setup for success of Goldman. Of course they would succeed – they knew exactly what would be going bad. That’s not a good thing, that’s a conspiracy.

    That’s like mom bragging to her kids that she found more of the Easter eggs than everyone else. Whoo-hoo. Mom knew where the eggs were to begin with.

  5. collapse expand

    Jesus Christ, I don’t know if I can take much more of this (but, of course, I’ll read the larger article).

    And the rats are still in charge & unscathed.

  6. collapse expand

    Thanks for putting into words the exact things I’ve been thinking since Sept. 18, 2008. I feel a tiny bit better knowing it isn’t just me.

    I can only hope that this will all come back onto them somehow.

    (yeah…right).

    God knows I’ll never get a chance to put bullets into their brainpans, as much as I’d like and as much as they deserve… so wtf… looks like a job for karma.

  7. collapse expand

    You should tell Rolling Stone to publish the article for free online and then pull it right when it starts getting popular, like the “Big Takeover” piece you did.

  8. collapse expand

    Matt,
    when you wrote “teaser” rates, I read “taser” rates, which is what they turned out to be, and actually what we, the people, turned out to be.

  9. collapse expand

    Oh dear God.
    What a stuck-up . This is so outrageous. If I could take the liberty of even further summarizing his apology. “Hey guys, sorry we screwed the global economy, but at least we made some good money for our people, until they lost it too.”
    Good job with pointing out how connected Goldmanites are to fiscal policy of the last 20-odd years. It is very frustrating, and I would have to agree that such conflicts of interest is unacceptable.

  10. collapse expand

    “While we regret that we participated…we are proud.” America.

  11. collapse expand

    It should be noted that there are two definitions of apology one seeks forgiveness, the other a rational. Seems some want it both ways.

  12. collapse expand

    A great column to be sure. I will look up your Rolling Stone piece when it comes out. I sincerely hope that you, in that column, or another one here or on True/Slant, discuss the roots of this massive slug to the gut of all Americans.

    By that I mean the potential ills and/or unintended consequences of what started out as a well-intended and somewhat well run government program that was promoted beyond usefulness so that every American President since Carter could utter one phrase in his annual ‘State of the Union’ address: “….and I’m proud to say that more Americans own their own home today than at any time in history…”

    The roots of this stretch back to a program initiated by Carter by the name of the “Community Reinvestment Act of 1977″. As i said, it started as a good way to get banks back in the inner cities to redevelope and revitalize what were at the time ‘burned out’ areas. Banks were forced to open branches in areas that would produce low balance accounts that were characterized by high over-draft and default activity. To force the banks in there, the government dictated to the state banking agencies that every bank above a certain size would have to open and maintain a certain number of branches and source a certain percentage of it’s loans, be they mortgages or small business loans, from these areas. And the penalty if they didn’t comply? They’d be prevented from opening any further branches in more desireable locations. In other words, they couldn’t grow unless they played the game.

    The banks complained to the government as they were being forced to give mortgages and small businesses that probably were not credit-worthy, so the government responded by forming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. All was good for a few years through the 80’s and early 90’s. Then the Clinton Administration decided that ‘…if some is good, then a LOT more is even better’, and raised the percentages for compliance to the banks. This forced the banks to seek out even less credit worthy individuals and businesses.

    This is where the unintended consequences really kicked in and it became social engineering run amok. The banks needed somewhere to pawn off the subprime loans, and that was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. So what did they do with the soon to be toxic assets? They worked with the banks to package them up with a percentage of ‘good loans’ so they could sell millions and billions of them as CMO’s (collaterallized mortgage obligations). both Fannie and Freddie went to the banks and said ‘how do we insure these things?’ And they came up with insurance to back them, which was the credit default swaps, which also had a market all their own.

    Millions more had homes. Real estate values were growing. Everyone was happy. That was when the no signature/no income verification/ no credit denied era came in, further inflating the real estate bubble. Everyone was happy. All was good, so long as real estate was going up and ‘it’ll always go up’ you know!

    Then a funny thing happened on the way to the opera: The real estate markets ran out of steam and dived.

    Both sides of the Congressional aisle are to blame, as are every Presidential Administration since Carter. Alan Greenspan warned of it continually back in the 90’s and 2000’s in numerous reports before Congress. But his warnings were summarily dismissed.

    No one wanted to be the one to rain on the parade…everyone wanted re-election. No we are ALL having to pay the price for this social engineering with unintended consequences. How much? I’ve not seen this quantified in the press before, so allow me: It comes out to around $78,000 for every one of the 100 million+ households in America.

    But fear not! We’ll just print more money to get out of this mess says the government! And with it will come double digit inflation for years. For those that don’t recall, the 70’s averaged 8% inflation. With even 8% inflation, the prices of everything will double in 9 years.

    I just can’t wait to pay $54,000 for a basic Honda Accord or Ford Taurus!

    • collapse expand

      Boiler,

      I’m always amazed at these people who think the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 caused the Housing and Credit Crisis of… 2007. You’d have to be as dumb as a bag of hammers to think that a law gets passed in 1977, magically does not affect the housing market adversely for 30 years, and then suddenly explodes in toxic leverage and brings down the entire international financial system a generation later.

      For the last time: the Community Reinvestment Act DID NOT FORCE BANKS TO LEND TO UNWORTHY BORROWERS. It did not force banks to open branches in bad neighborhoods or rescue “burned out” communities. It did not actually force banks to do anything at all, as a matter of fact. All the act did was specify that if you wanted to get FDIC insurance, you had to actually lend to the people whose deposits you held. And this was not mandated by quotas or numerical targets. There was no specific mechanism for this at all. The act just forced banks to be subject to periodic reviews by the banks’ primary regulator, whoever that happened to be — the Fed, the OCC, the FDIC, and the state banking institutions. These regulators were supposed to look at the banks’ lending history and make sure that they weren’t refusing to lend to their own depositors, a practice that was common in ghetto bank branches through the seventies.

      Since we have all seen how completely and totally ineffectual the banking regulators have been in the last fifteen years in enforcing even the most basic criminal statutes, it again strains the imagination to conceive of the mind that would believe that somehow all these different ineffectual regulators ignored all other laws for decades but chose to hammer the banks with the CRA, forcing them all to give out loans to poor black people.

      It’s not true and it’s absurd. The CRA, again, did not force anyone to make any kind of loan. I’m going to quote from the Federal Reserve’s own description of the law:

      “Nor does the law require institutions to make high-risk loans that jeopardize their safety. To the contrary, the law makes it clear that an institution’s CRA activities should be undertaken in a safe and sound manner.”

      This crisis had nothing to do with the CRA and everything to do with the collapse of mortgage underwriting standards, coupled with advances in the technology of securitization, which allowed banks to lend to unworthy borrowers and then sell off these dicey mortgages to secondary buyers. The driving forces in this crisis were bonuses for mortgage brokers and appraisers, underwriting fees for the securitizing firms, and commissions for the institutional fixed-income fund managers who bought this stuff from the investment banks. It was a purely market-driven process and had absolutely nothing to do with government-mandated social engineering.

      It blows my mind, the lengths people will go to to blame disasters on liberals and minorities. The really ironic thing is that if you want to blame the Democrats for this stuff, there are plenty of real misdeeds to bash them for. The fact that the Limbaugh/Hannity crowd decided to focus on a basically irrelevant law like the CRA shows that they know their audiences will buy pretty much anything, so long as the punchline is black slobs on welfare breaking the back of hardworking America.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        I’ve got to add something else, because this is just so ridiculous, this pegging the financial crisis on the CRA.

        First of all, the agencies that conduct CRA examinations have absolutely no enforcement powers. None — zero. Even if you flunk your CRA examination, you cannot be ordered to do anything.

        In fact, the government chose to address this issue in 1989 by making the results of CRA exams public. The idea here is that you’d see a little bit of a deterrent here — in the absence of real enforcement powers, banks might at least be embarrassed into lending to their depositors if the fact that they didn’t lend to minorities was explicitly made public.

        On the other hand, the government didn’t want CRA exams to be such a huge burden. So in 1999, as part of Gramm-Leach-Bliley, they mandated that CRA exams would only take place once every four or five years for all banks that were deemed “Satisfactory” or better in their exams.

        In the period 2002-2008, state member banks evaluated by the Fed scored the following: 15.8% were “outstanding,” 83.7% were “satisfactory,” and only .5% had a “needs to improve” or worse rating.

        So according to Boiler, the housing bubble was caused by half of one percent of all banks being so embarrassed by public disclosure of their CRA rating that they went bonkers and started forking over million-dollar mortgages to every crackhead in sight.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  13. collapse expand

    Only petty theft in this country is criminal. Massive, huge-scale thievery is just good business.

  14. collapse expand

    Reminds me of a Woody Guthrie song which goes something like this: “As through this world I’ve wandered, I’ve seen lots of funny men; some will rob you with a six gun, some with a fountain pen.”

  15. collapse expand
    Wes
    Wes

    I agree, we need get off the “banks lending to unworthy borrowers” topic and focus more intently on the “market driven forces” behind the banking and mortgage crisis.

    I am born and raised in Florida, graduated college in ‘04. I will tell you, the majority of kids whom I went to college with that stayed in the community, and thought they were getting ahead in life by purchasing property right as they were starting careers (2004-2007), are completely screwed.

    These are younger people with education and jobs – the future leaders of the community type – but full of youthful optimism and not shrewd enough to realize that the market would collapse under them. Every older and wiser asshole under the sun (and there are a lot of old people down here) was advising to buy property now or face the “reality” of never owning a house in Florida because it will get too expensive — ie. just like California (insert your own joke here).

    This was a great way for real estate agents and banks to keep the market going, even when most of them knew it would never last.

    When I started college at UCF in 2000, I couldn’t even find a house to rent in the greater Orlando area. By 2005, there were so many new properties built, so many flipped houses, owners were renting to anybody with a pulse. This despite the fact that the area had seen a sizable influx of new residents over the past five years and an economy still going strong.

    I thought about it, but common sense told me something wasn’t right, and buying property for $250k, when it would have sold for $100k just a few years earlier, didn’t seem like a smart move.

  16. collapse expand

    Thanks for a good, well-researched rant. Why, it might be time to pick up another issue of RS!

    Your rant and other non-MSM reporting on this has brought out the nasty in all of these business deals. I recently spokje with a free-lance musician who was thinking of buying a home 3 years ago. She was making around $30,000, plus or minus. The lending institution she went to approved her for a $300,000 home! Fortunately said musician knew better or she’d be in foreclosure today.

    This shit happened virally throughout the industry. Goldman’s pride should be the 1/7 sins that causes its downfall, but it looks as if we’ll have them around for a long time. Lloyd Blankfein should liquidate his assets and care for at least one family that his company screwed. He and his kin can live in a new mini-house.

  17. collapse expand

    Thanks for continuing to make this stuff understandable to your common dimwit like me, Matt.

    I’m somewhat surprised Blankfein is still among the breathing. He must have a large coterie of bodyguards. Certainly there are plenty of angry people around the world who are staring at impoverished golden years thanks to Lloyd and would like to take it out on someone responsible. Not that I advocate vigilante justice. I’m simply surprised at its absence.

    Though at the same time Paulson should be strung up and turned into a human piñata. And Goldman employees should be banned from the federal government. These people are a living primer in how to corrupt government. They are also a fine example of why President Obama and our congressional representatives, should they ever feel the unlikely urge to pass progressive legislation that actually helps American human beings, won’t. Our legislative and executive branches of govt have been hijacked by lobbyists from Wall Street and other huge industries to such an extent that, even though Americans consistently support ideas like universal insurance, high-sped rail and heavy investment in green energy, legislation embodying these ideas will never pass except in obscenely watered-down form. More than ever before money rules our country, and it is money that is flushing our country down the proverbial toilet.

  18. collapse expand

    because you keep voting for all of this. Wall Street is in: New York! Sorry not Salt Lake City or Anywhere Texas

    Washington DC is in that I-95 corridor between Boston where all this chit is cooked up so when you get on the T, MTA, SEPTA, Metro and the L (can’t forget about Chicago) look at the person to the left and right of you and ask yourself: WFT!

    Iranians are out in the streets then again they have a noble cause, you clowns wouldn’t mind the ramming jamming if there was some Single Payer Heathcare to help heal you up. Its sad to see smart people sale there souls for security to only get nether. So as they say, “let them eat cake” at least your favorite politician made sure the cake it at least trans fat free!

  19. collapse expand

    Thank you, Matt, for this succinct explanation. I have been hearing snippets of Limbaugh blaming the financial mess totally on the CRA and due to his track record I was pretty sure it was lies.

    I play a game where I listen to Limbaugh while I’m waiting in bank drive-through lanes and see how many lies I can ID in that random time. He doesn’t disappoint in that respect.

  20. collapse expand

    Awesome post, love the way you spell out the activities behind the mumbo jumbo!! Thanks

  21. collapse expand

    Thanks Matt. I’ve read your articles in Rolling Stone and have seen you on Real Time-have always been impressed by your no non-sense approach. Keep up the good work, I wish you had a Prime Time News Hour of your own. Take care.

  22. collapse expand

    “Most of those customers were snookered into buying this stuff because they had no idea what it was: in the case of pensions and unions particularly, a lot of these customers only bought this crap because the peculiar alchemy banks like Goldman used in devising their mortgage-backed securities made radioactive mortgages look like AAA-rated investments.”

    This lets too many people off too easy. The people who manage assets for these pensions and such are well compensated pros who’s JOB is to ACTUALLY FIGURE OUT WHAT THEY’RE BUYING. The street’s venality in marketing some of these products needs no embellishment. Telling the full story requires pointing out the galling laziness and intellectual deadness of professional managers who outsourced their credit work to the street and the rating agencies.

  23. collapse expand

    Kill a man, you’re a murderer. Kill a million, you’re a conquerer.

    Rob a bank, you’re a thief. Rob a country, you’re “proud of the way our firm managed the risk it assumed…”

    The smugness is sickening. Karl Denningers “Starve the beast” campaign is good – but this is something we should all have been doing anyhow. To truly “Starve the beast” everybody must with draw all investments and any moneys that may be otherwise invested into a market replete with fraud and corruption.

  24. collapse expand

    Goldman is a big seller of US Government Debt for the Federal Government. Just wondering, when we finally determine we have too much debt at the Federal level, are you going to blame Goldman because they made it too easy for the politicians to just keep spending?

    Seems like you are looking for one small group to blame instead of spreading it around where it belongs. Goldman did a lot of things wrong but you can’t avoid the fact individuals, institutions, regulators (& politicians who act as regulators) and governments across the world all participated in each of these bubbles.

    It doesn’t make me any brighter if I blame everyone else for my stupid actions. Most people deep down can see the idiocy of carbon trading long term. Goldman is a player in the idiocy but we’ve got other players with more power making the idiocy legal. Our government in it’s idiocy is forcing this stuff through. Is that Goldman’s fault?

    Was it Goldman’s fault when Barney Frank required Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to go to 32x leverage right before the defaulted?

  25. collapse expand

    Somebody a lot smarter than me taught me that: Excess Liquidity ALWAYS follows the inflating assets. In each of these bubbles and the one’s to come, Goldman has the perspicacity to fashion a product to attract those funds from the holders. In the 2007 commodity scam, First we have creation of the commodity index fund to attract/sell the pension funds, foundations and Narvik Norway on This form of “alternative asset” and then the blatant receipt (dont see how it was legal) of the exemption to hedge the index funds enormous sale. They probably shorted against their clients all the way down also. (In an early paragraph you referred to Goldie selling futures which wouldn’t work but to my admiration caught it and reverted to index funds later.). I am tremendously impressed at the accuracy and inclusiveness of your capture of their pump and dump bubble scheme. Also the Cap and Trade follow-on has credibility. Aside. Have you run across the small firm in Texas which sold large multiples of cds of the original bond issue of a deal down there to these princes of greed at fees large enough to permit them to buy the issue at par as specified in the doc’s and keep the multiple overage? Guv’mint Sachs doesn’t always win.

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