The transaction at issue in that case was between highly sophisticated investment firms, and had no more to do with the housing market collapsing than your office pool had to do with who won the NCAA basketball tournament.
The housing bubble was created by Washington policies which created cheap money and lax lending practices, and millions of individual home buyers, mortgage brokers, and lenders who were all too willing to go along. Each of these people bet in favor of the bubble not only continuing, but growing.
Wall Street helped grease the wheels by packaging mortgages for resale, sometimes in confusingly (and sometimes misleadingly) structured products, which mostly were resold to sophisticated institutional investors. But as I have pointed out before, the mortgages were the core problem; no bad mortgages, no bad mortgage-backed securities.
The housing bubble burst for the same reason economic bubbles always have burst, since time immemorial: There were no greater fools left to pay higher prices. Only then did the people who bet in favor of the housing bubble, including most politicians, realize they had bet wrong. And the entire economy paid the price.
Some people, however, saw that a bubble was a bubble was a bubble, and that it only was a matter of time before it burst. And that appears to be the political crime for which Goldman Sachs is being charged by the Congress and Democratic politicians.
Goldman Sachs hedged its bets, and took short positions with regard to mortgage-backed securities (meaning that Goldman Sachs would make money if the value of the securities dropped).
But none of these short positions caused a single homeowner not to meet a mortgage payment, or a single buyer to walk away from the inflated sales price on a home.
Goldman Sachs is being vilified by Carl Levin (D-Mich) and the Obama administration because Goldman Sachs put in e-mails that its short positions proved profitable in a dropping housing market:
Is this a crime? Is this even wrong?
In a Nov. 17, 2007, email, Goldman's chief executive officer, Lloyd Blankfein, wrote to his top lieutenants in response to an upcoming New York Times story about how the firm had profited off the souring subprime market: "Of course we didn't dodge the mortgage mess. We lost money, then made more than we lost because of shorts."
Blankfein is one of the top executives to be questioned Tuesday by Levin.
In an Oct. 11 email that year, one Goldman employee, reacting to news that Moody's Investors Service had downgraded $32 billion in mortgage-related securities, wrote to a colleague: "Sounds like we will make some serious money."
"Yes, we are well positioned," the colleague responded.
All of the sudden, Democrats hate short sellers? Democrats don't seem to mind taking money for their think tanks and media operations from George Soros, who made billions by betting against currencies.
And why shouldn't Goldman Sachs have hedged its bets?
Should Goldman Sachs have been Lehman Brothers or Bear Stearns or AIG and so mismanaged its risk exposure that it either went out of business or was bailed out by the government? (Goldman Sachs received TARP money, which it paid back, but was not one of the failed institutions which led to the credit crisis.)
Are we now punishing those who engaged in intelligent and honest assessments of the economy, and acted responsibly despite the irresponsibility of Washington politicians?
Now about those e-mails. How about releasing all the e-mails of each Senator and staffer on the committee which will interrogate Goldman Sachs' executives? I would be willing to bet (long not short) that there would be far more scandalous material in the Congressional servers than anything said in the Goldman Sachs e-mails.
And while we're at it, can we please see the Congressional e-mails in which Democrats bet against the surge working in Iraq?
We really have reached the "silly season" of which Barack Obama has warned time and again, but the silliness is being perpetrated by this administration in its zeal to instigate class warfare and create enemies against whom to campaign.
We now are rewarding corporate failures with government bailouts, and berating and belittling the successful companies which were smart and honest enough to see that a bubble was a bubble was a bubble.
If we had more companies run like Goldman Sachs, and fewer run like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, we would not be in the mess we are in.
If we had more traders who made non-political assessments of economic viability and creditworthiness, and fewer Barney Franks and Chris Dodds whose political demagoguery was the air which filled the housing bubble, we all would have been better off.
The war being waged by the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats against Wall Street is nothing more than psychological projection, whereby the irresponsibility and recklessness of Washington politicians are attributed to the people who were least irresponsible and least reckless.
Worse yet, the new diktat in Washington appears to be, "Thou Shall Not Bet Against A Bubble."
Which is about the worst advice anyone could give, but not surprising considering that it comes from the same politicians who created the bubble in the first place.
Update: A good discussion of the nature of the securities at issue is set forth in an article by my colleague, Prof. Charles Whitehead, Shorting the SEC’s case against Goldman Sachs.
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