Saturday, June 12, 2010

Wall Street Shenanigans - Is Iconic Brand USA Under Threat?

Breach of trust. Isn't that a culpable crime in financial world? How will you feel when your most trusted financial advisor, the one you even played golf with, was to commit breach of trust in order to swindle billions of dollars from you? Further, how would you feel if you happen to be the conscientious fund manager of a large Pension Fund on whom rests the onerous responsibility of ensuring that thousands of Pensioners have a respectable old age through timely pension? For a minute jump into the shoes of such a Pension Fund Manager and then tell me if  breach of trust is not a crime.

That is exactly what happened in the making of Sub Prime Crisis. Investment   bankers of Wall Street inflicted total breach of trust upon unsuspecting Institutional Investors and High Net worth Individuals(HNIs). This is becoming evident from the slew of court cases popping up against Goldman Sachs, the most venerable Investment Bank of Wall Street operating for the last 140 years. In global investment circles, Goldman Sachs' word in the final word on financial investment. And why shouldn't it be? Former employees of Goldman Sachs have headed World Bank, US Treasury Department, New York Stock Exchange, White House Staff, and financial giants like Citigroup and Merrill Lynch. Some such luminaries in recent times are Robert Rubin and Henry Paulson, who were United States Secretary of the Treasury under Bill Clinton and George W Bush respectively.

Here we realize that we are talking of an all powerful global Investment Bank with some very influential links. It is so powerful that in 1995 Robert Rubin, as US Treasury Secretary, could enforce bailout of Mexican Bonds with US taxpayers'  money worth $20 billion. Reason : Goldman Sachs had huge exposure to bonds issued by Mexican Government and Mexico was in economic crisis which threatened to wipe out the value of these bonds. And also remember that Robert Rubin was a former employee of Goldman Sachs, managing  its Mexican investments. So the point is, when Goldman Sachs gives financial investment advice institutional investors around the world take action in accordance. It was this very faith which was smothered by Goldman Sachs, thereby morphing the sub prime crisis into a credit crisis of  magnitude unparalleled since the Great Depression of 1929.

As the plot unravels, deals of Goldman Sachs are continuously tumbling out of cupboard like the proverbial skeletons. From 2004 to 2008 Goldman sold 25 toxic mortgage based Collateralized Debt Obligations(CDO) products labelled Abacus. They even pressured Moody's to rate these products higher. These deals were worth billions and Tetsuya Ishikawa was one of the Goldman investment bankers who was involved in these deals. He later published a book titled " How I Caused the Credit Crunch". However Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the regulatory body of markets in US, later sued Goldman Sachs and one of its employees Fabrice Tourre in April 2010. SEC alleged that Goldman sold Abacus 2007-AC 1(a synthetic CDO product of Abacus series) by misrepresenting facts to its investors. It allowed a hedge fund, named Paulson & Co., to select underlying mortgages, which Paulson was shorting, into this synthetic CDO. In this manner Paulson made $ 1 billion in profit from shorting and investors in this Abacus deal lost the same amount. On 30 April 2010 a criminal probe has been launched into Goldman Sachs by Manhattan office of US Attorney General.

SEC is now probing a second Goldman CDO called Hudson Mezannine 2006-1. It underwrote this CDO and itself was the only short investor on all the assets worth $ 2 billion tied to the CDO. Honesty is such a orphaned word!! Last week Basis Capital, an Australian Hedge Fund, sued Goldman Sachs for $1 billion alleging that it fraudulently sold bits of toxic assets in the form of CDO called Timberwolfe-1, while itself shorting the market. When the CDO eventually collapsed with the US housing market, Basis Capital had to shut shop.

Goldman is also in the eye of the storm regarding controversial American International Group(AIG) bailout with $182 billion of taxpayers' money by US Federal Reserves in September 2008. AIG is a massive insurance corporation with almost all global banks having insurance exposure to it. It is alleged that Goldman Sachs engineered the bailout with its lobbying muscles and links inside the Federal Reserves. It is reported that AIG bailout money has finally gone into Wall Street investment banks like Goldman Sachs with overpayment. New York State Attorney General announced on March 2009 that he was investigating whether AIG counterparties improperly received Government money.

Then there is this skeleton of Goldman Sachs having created the recent European Sovereign Debt Default crisis. It is reported that from 1998 to 2009 Goldman has been systematically helping the Greek Government to help mask facts about its true national debt. Then in September 2009 it created a special Credit Default Swap(CDS) index for cover of high risk national debt of Greece. The Greek national bond prices fell drastically, making it difficult for Greece to raise further funds thereby leading the economy to near bankruptcy.

Let us not get carried away by the wrong notion that only Goldman Sachs is to be blamed. What Goldman Sachs did, other Investment Banks on Wall Street also did the same. Take the court cases piling up against Merrill Lynch  where the stories sound exactly similar to those of Goldman Sachs' cases, albeit with different name. One case filed by Rabobank against Merrill Lynch is so similar to Goldman's Abacus case that it is quite unnerving. It is because the entire Investment Bank community on Wall Street was practising what by then had become glorified business of daylight robbery in the garb of global investment opportunities in housing market of Brand USA. Imagine devastating plots being hatched by coterie of investment bankers in smoke-filled-cellars of Wall Street, plots which crippled the financial world and is now ready to take down nations with debt burden.

What is most disturbing in all this is that breach of trust is not being given due importance. No one has been found guilty so far in any meaningful way and hence no one has been sufficiently punished. As I mentioned in my last post of 6th June 2010 titled " Isn't It Anymore Immoral to Loot!- Oh Wall Street Ethics", derivatives is a zero sum game. If trillion dollars have been lost collectively in sub prime crisis by vast majority of global investors, then there will be a handful  who would have gained trillion dollars. Track down these few heroes and investigate their dealings and links with  Wall Street Investment Banks and you will get your answer. Although some investigations are directed towards that but they are yet to bear any fruit. A global crisis which could propel a German billionaire to commit suicide is no mean crisis. What US has build painstakingly as  iconic Brand America over decades is at a risk of being diluted, if not lost, just because Wall Street honchos cannot control their excessive greed. Breach of Trust can have a telling effect on pecking order of financial world , so what if it gets unnoticed in courtroom battles.

In the next post we shall scrutinize the role of nations in pumping steroids into  their respective economies hit by the tsunami of credit crisis. Commonly known as stimulus packages, we will dwell on the fallout of such steroids.