Goldman's Levitt Calls Obama's Gimmick To Keep GSEs Off The Balance Sheet "Shades Of Enron"

Tyler Durden's picture

A few days ago we made some observations on the just-announced nearly $4 trillion 2011 budget. The key point was that while the ugly numbers already looked like a superglued Frankenstein monster without a Kardasian botox treatment, or even simple lipstick, it would have been truly disastrous had the administration done what Peter Orzsag threatened he would do 2 years ago, namely bring the GSEs, Freddie and Fannie, on the government's balance sheet. How this is not the case yet is simply stunning: the GSEs enjoy not only the constant "bid of first refusal" courtesy of the Fed's MBS QE program, but an explicit Treasury guarantee that has no ceiling as of last Christmas eve. Bloomberg's Jonathan Weil today came to the same conclusion, although being a Bloomberg employee he was characteristically much more crass, uncouth and downright cynical than the paragon of respected journalistic patois that is the establishmentarian concept known as Zero Hedge. In an attempt to awake the morts out of their stupor, a pandering Weil uses such cheap tricks as hyperventilating allegory, sarcasm, and hyperbole when saying that  "[b]y all outward appearances, it seems
Obama and his budget wizards decided that including the
liabilities at Fannie and Freddie would be too much reality for
the world to handle. So they left the companies out, in a trick
worthy of Enron’s playbook, except not quite so hidden.
" Obviously, Bloomberg has an uphill struggle if its ever wishes to reach profitability (in the trillions of dollars that is... billions is so fin de pre-bailout siecle). We also fear for Weil's job prospects should he ever wish to find an occupation at such a highly respected place, where not only is there a 4 syllable word minimum but no sentences ever end in prepositions, as the Reuters blogosphere. Ironically, Bloomberg did redeem themselves somewhat later today, when in a Tom Keene interview, Goldman policy advisor Arthur Levitt is caught on tape performing more of the same hyperventilating, and in doing so blasting the administration, using the same Enron-esque analogy, when analyzing the paradox of the GSEs and the sovereign balance sheet.

The full transcript is below. We have bolded the relevant sections. We are more curious whether Levitt's expressed opinion is that of Levitt or of his employee, Goldman Sachs. Our money is on the latter. And when 85 Broad calls Obama's fiscal policy "Enron" you know the cold war between Goldman and Obama is getting warmer by the day.

     FEBRUARY 4, 2010
     (This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
     TOM KEENE, HOST, 'BLOOMBERG SURVEILLANCE': Right now, Arthur Levitt, Policy Advisor, Goldman Sachs, Bloomberg LP Board Member, Former Chairman of the SEC.
     Jonathan Weil out with a commentary this morning on the Bloobmerg of a $6.3 trillion essentially off balance sheet transaction. Should Fannie and Freddy be on the balance sheet? Should they be visible to the taxpayers?
     ARTHUR LEVITT, POLICY ADVISOR, GOLDMAN SACHS: Absolutely. It's an incredible article. He's absolutely right. Fannie and Freddie belong on the balance sheet if we're in an era of transparency.
     The White House is already forecasting $1.3 trillion budget deficit for 2011, which is about $3 of spending for every $2 of government receipts. Fannie and Freddie are wards of the State. Orszag already promised that that's where they should be. And he's not putting it there. Shades of Enron.
     KEENE: Really? That big a deal?
     LEVITT: It is that big a deal.
     KEENE: Shades of Enron?
     LEVITT: Absolutely.

     KEN PREWITT, HOST, 'BLOOMBERG SURVEILLANCE': So if Fannie and Freddie were on the government's balance sheet, everything would look even worse than it does now?
     LEVITT: Oh, considerably worse.

So you don't need the much respected Zero Hedge or the pandering pamphlet that is Bloomberg to get to the same conclusion as Goldman does - that Obama is currently engaged in massive "Enronesque" accounting fraud, which if fully reflecting the 140% debt/GDP reality would cause US CDS to trade side by side with those of Bulgaria.

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Steve Dallas's picture

You know, Christo's Bulgarian... 


I wonder what he could have wrapped with all the documents Arthur Andersen shredded.

buzzsaw99's picture

GS really has room to badmouth Enron. [/sarcasm]

Daedal's picture

My favorite GSE of all: GSe

Master Bates's picture

That's some pretty funny shit! :)

moneymutt's picture

so true, something about a pot talking to kettle comes to mind

TheGoodDoctor's picture

Yeah honestly, that is what I was thinking too. It cracks me up. Now they are talking about Spain, Greece and Portugal on the news but yet somehow cannot connect the dots to the USA being in a similar situation. Hmmmmm odd don't you think?

tomdub_1024's picture

Let em go at it, GS and Govt, maybe enough bs will come out in the laundry for the Ovine to wakey-wake and help the reset button get pushed....meh...sorry, just an alcohol-induced'er mind...

Silver Bullet's picture

I must say, I'm submitting 'mort' as the word of the year for 2010.

I use it all the time now.

Anonymous's picture

I wish Tyler would write in simple language so dumb like me would undrestand.

Would someone PLEASE translate this in simple einglish for me. Thanks

Anonymous's picture

Simple English: Uncle Sam is pulling a Benron Bernanke slight, named after the second largest theft in mankind. A little trick to see if failure can indeed be rewarded all the while distracting the masses with a fabricated quarrel between GS and GSUSA.

This citizen promises bloody fucking hell the closer this bullshit gets to his national solvency.

You can lie cheat and steal if you are government but touch my liberty through the cowards on fraud street and I will end you one gold coin at a time.

Problem Is's picture

Very eloquent and concise anony...

May I add: Kabuki Theater.

Politicians and Wall Street lackeys in dresses and make up waddling on stage for performances as biatches...

One must do what one does best...

Bear_Cub's picture

Basically, the O-team leaves off the potential losses of the GSE's (Fannie and Freddie most notably) in the budget. The government has already stated that it will financially back Fannie and Freddie; even if they lost a trillion dollars this year, taxpayers would be on the hook for it. Therefore, it would be more transparent to include the potential losses in the budget, something that the administration did not do because the Debt-GDP ratio would look even worse.


Who knows how much F/F could lose anyways? 300B? 500B? Maybe a trillion over a few years isn't improbable...

MsCreant's picture

The killer of this is that Freddie/Fannie were, in the past, NOT EXPLICITLY BACKED BY THE GOV. It was in no contract, it was "assumed" though. This crisis forced the hand of that assumption. But we (tax payers) never contractually had to back these. While it was not explicitly backed, I could see the argument for not having it on the books. That argument NO LONGER EXISTS!!!!!

Anonymous's picture

Simple English:

The government is practicing crooked acounting, and keeping housing prices completely unaffordable to protect the institutions who have placed bad bets.

If you're a young couple looking to buy a house, the government is forcing you to completely overpay by a factor of 10 and to enter a life of debt slavery, so that the powers-that-be can enjoy another decade of largess.

Anonymous's picture

Enron was JP Morgan Chase orchestration and not Goldman Sachs. Anyway we all know that GS is doing God's work.

Number 156's picture

I don't get it. GS is making money hand over fist from the taxpayer, (thank you Obama, Bush, et al...). What is that fool complaining about? Not to mention, the hypocrisy of complaining about 'accounting gimmicks'.  

Am I missing something, or is he trying to grow a layer of teflon?

Miles Kendig's picture

A classic example of attempting to deflate and deflect criticism and attention by focusing it upon someone else.  What makes this so excellent is that the reason Levitt and by extension GS know where to hit the current administration is because they are the ones who helped design and implement the whole process to begin with.  At great personal profit to themselves.

tomdub_1024's picture

if you keep the Ovine continuously turning in the the same mis-direction, they will continuously walk in circles, distracted from the real sleight of hand of the puppeteers, the circle growing ever smaller until enough cross the event horizon...but by then the wealth, and its appropiators, are gone to fairer climes...

Kettle, meet pot, play this long enough and we both can be outta the fire, and leave the mess for the Ovine to clean up.

Anonymous's picture

Smoke and mirrors. For PR sake GS and the current administration are publicly acting at odds -- while the deal shift continues. Was it just me or was it apparent ---the timing of the Obama "Get tough with banks talk" 2 hours after GS announced record earnings and Cash Bonus "cuts" (Replaced By Stock options with strikes valued two days later at $25 less than the market two days prior) We will know on this in six months time on where the GS stock price is.

Good point on the Freddie and Fannie debt to be added to the national debt ---The electorate are not on to this as well....What about AIG?

Mr Lennon Hendrix's picture

Hegelian dialectic; Create smoke and fire, and say that someone else did it..  

Cistercian's picture

 That was one of the funniest intros ever Tyler.Most excellent form!

Problem Is's picture

"superglued Frankenstein monster without a Kardasian botox treatment..."

I love "Caustic" Tyler. When I make comments like that, people think I am obnoxious...

tomdub_1024's picture

could be worse, ya know...:)

Problem Is's picture

You mean... maybe I AM obnoxious?

tomdub_1024's picture

obnoxious not so bad, I mean, SOMEone has to push the envelope, and those smart enough will recognize the intent...:) If one is reality based, obnoxious just alerts one to a previously unknown opinion, tangent, etc., that may be worthwhile chewing over.

tomdub_1024's picture

some of my favorite commentators on ZH are totally obnoxious and caustic, those are the ones that make me think....which is why I am here to begin with, to think, and not be Ovine.

tomdub_1024's picture

my wife informed me that I am what do i know...:)

Cindy_Dies_In_The_End's picture

Drink a lot and be happy. Why aren't you cheating on the wifeanyway? Everyone else here is. ;)

tomdub_1024's picture

LOL! I was not aware of that...:)

Problem Is's picture

"my wife informed me that I am obnoxious..."

It is your wife's/girlfriend's job to tell you you're obnoxious...

"Can you see the real me? Can you? Can you?"

Problem Is's picture

"SOMEone has to push the envelope, and those smart enough will recognize the intent...:)"


Sarcasm and a caustic delivery are a mocking of the myth narrative. It is the pessimist's and/or skeptic's friend.

It is one of my favorite forms of the written word. When some one can ridicule the dominant view with facts, biting humor and witty disdain (eg "Caustic" Tyler)... there is nothing funnier and sometimes nothing more poignant.

You have to ask yourself, "How can these optimistic dick-wads actually believe this shit?"

This is what a society of used mortgage salesmen gets you. Everyone bullshitting others and more importantly themselves to sell some dumb ass a used mortgage, used car, used MBS junk bond, used condo... what ever this dick-wad society is selling at the moment, for a zero sum gain.

This is a society made up of more and more bullshitters that can not add value to anything or produce anything of substance. The bottom 95% learn the rules from the 5% at the top... and what a sorry 5% they are...

Hephasteus's picture

This is great that we can adopt enron style accounting to governement. Because the ENTIRE ISDA is enron style accounting, law, and deals.


lewy14's picture

Tyler, I think the "Enron" comment is certainly fair - the GSEs are the ultimate "off balance sheet" vehicle. I don't see how it's fair to count the whole of their liabilities as being the debt of the USG, because there are assets backing those GSE liabilities - namely US residential property.

Are those assets sufficient? Unknown - wildly unlikely even - but they are not zero.

So I don't see how you get to 140% debt to GDP. What the Treasury is doing is writing a derivative contract for the GSEs. (It's not a "put", exactly, and it's not a CDS exactly either).

However you classify the guarantee, the Treasury is extracting no premium for this guarantee, and is provisioning no collateral for it either. It would be interesting to estimate the market level of both the premium and the collateral - as if, say, GSE guarantees had to be purchased in the OTC market. Those would be fair numbers to charge against the Treasury.

Of course those numbers would be bullshit too, but they'd be arguably more defensible bullshit.

JuicyTheAnimal's picture

GS is tellin' on 'em 'cause they talkin' 'bout taking 'way dey prop tradin'. much do you think it would cost to put a gigantic circus tent over the whole of DC?  

Them clowns should invest in that. 

Anonymous's picture

agree totally, plus, i guarantee you guy knows shit about what happened at enron, 99.9999% haven't a real clue except headline crap.........GSE's are a known entity, a very shitty one, yet, known,

fwiw, enron story is fascinating, like a good political thriller.........lay=bush, clueless skilling=cheney, moniacal fastow=madoff, a socia-pathic liar wallstreet=wallstreet, they beat earnings, we beat on your door for a piece of the action

gotta love it

viahj's picture

how much do you think it would cost to put a gigantic circus tent over the whole of DC?


Funny, the image that popped into my head was that of a tent over a house that is being fumigated.

Anonymous's picture

Fumigated...wish I was that optimistic. Istead I see 20,000 three-stooges-esque clowns with size 25 shoes being chased around by a retarded tiger and a bunch of poop flinging chimps.

carbonmutant's picture

I read ZH for the metaphors.

MsCreant's picture

You meant that metaphorically, right?

Hephasteus's picture

I'm in it for the metathrees.

Anonymous's picture

i'm in it for the mushrooms.

A Man without Qualities's picture

Considering how fiercely the likes of GS lobbied to prevent the real reform necessary to stamp out most of the loopholes that allow Enron style gimmicks, this seems a bit rich.  Enron failed because it could no longer fund itself and because they could not transfer their bad assets to the government.  If only they had been able to turn themselves into a bank holding company and access the Fed discount window, they may still be alive today...

JimboJammer's picture

Good  Job  Tyler...  This  is  Big  news... the  US Dollar  is  Dog  food.

Rick64's picture

GSEs are in purgatory.

Anonymous's picture

Yeah... short USD, long Gold, long Silver.

That way I have so little money... I'll be a permanent ZH commenter, forever.


exportbank's picture

Truth is too ugly. Governments(no matter the party) are unable to deal with reality - imagine if governments (all levels), pension plans, banks and companies all marked-to-market (forget S.S., Medicare and drug benefit). Even though truth is your friend, they see it as the enemy.

twotraps's picture

Whatever.          The govt is revealing itself as a circus.....or its just so exposed now that its finally ok to speak of it as a totall charade.


1.  How do we make money, protect what we have?

2.  Is there Any 'out of bounds' at all we need to worry about, as far as the govt goes? 


The same old discussion about pathetic politicians is getting old.  The culmination of their efforts is plain to see..............Check out the Illinois fiscal situation!

rawsienna's picture

Another good one regarding the budget that was under the radar - they have FHA making 6bb in 2011.  While my personal view is that they will need a bailout of at least 25-50bb, the thought that FHA would contribute 6bb of profit is insane. If true, why not privatize em and get rid of the problem once an for all?

twotraps's picture

Totally agree.  Kinda hard to take their accounting seriously anyway!  It prints money, then borrows from itself to buy bonds to support programs protected with favorable rates and accounting.  Good game if you can get it.