April 7, 2010
Goldman is once again rebooting its PR strategy with respect to the fact that it went short the housing market while selling products that allowed its clients to go long.
This complaint has always been overblown — investment banks are in the product-creation business as well as the betting-on-markets business, and the two businesses act independently.
But we doubt Goldman’s new approach will help much.
Basically, the firm is now saying that it went short because it was trying to manage its risks and that it still lost money on its residential housing bets (albeit a lot less than it would have lost had it not been short).
That won’t come as much consolation for anyone who got creamed on Goldman products that the firm’s own traders went short.
In an eight-page introduction to Goldman’s 2009 annual report, Lloyd Blankfein, chief executive, and his number two, Gary Cohn, tackle claims that their company profited from the US housing debacle and the collapse of the insurer AIG…
Reviewing a year in which Goldman’s near-record results came despite “considerable pressures and distractions”, Mr Blankfein and Mr Cohn describe the bank’s role as being an intermediary between investors, rather than as a trader on its own account.
The letter says Goldman’s crucial decision to reduce its exposure to the US mortgage market in December 2006, when many clients were still buying mortgage-backed securities brokered by the bank, was simply prudent risk management.
Mr Blankfein and Mr Cohn admit that Goldman had “short” positions in residential mortgages in 2007, which were designed to profit from a market deterioration, but maintain they were not “a bet against our clients”.
“The firm did not generate enormous net revenues or profits by betting against residential mortgage-related products, as some have speculated,” they write.
“Rather, our relatively early risk reduction resulted in our losing less money than we otherwise would have when the residential housing market began to deteriorate rapidly.”
Goldman is also protesting against the idea that it killed AIG by sucking out the taxpayer bailout dollars and leaving the firm to die. We’ve never had a problem with Goldman collecting money it was owed — our problem was with Tim Geithner, for shoveling taxpayer dollars into a black hole — but we suspect that this too will be viewed as a distinction without a difference.
Here’s the real message people should take away:
Goldman plays to win. And it usually wins. Get over it.
This article was posted: Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at 9:37 am