Lucas Van Praag
Remember the look on one's face when one hears there is no Santa Claus, or tooth fairy? That, more or less, is what the visage on everyone's favorite CNBC anchors Becky Quick, Joe Kernen and Andrew Ross Sorkin was, when Chris Whalen matter of fact (because it is a fact) let a rare glimpse of reality on the NBC Universal distraction and entertainment show, when he said "There is no Chinese Wall. Please. Come on. This is Wall Street." Awkward silence follows. And why not: if the banks officially call frontrunning an "Asymmetric Information Initiative" to mask the simple illegality from the idiot regulators, why not call a spade a spade, and expose one more aspect of the lies and crime that is shoved down investors' throats every single day.
Opus Dei to you douche bag!
Who would have thought that doing away with your prop trading unit would have consequences? Surely not Goldman spokesman Lucas van Praag or anyone who read his response to Zero Hedge from December 2009 in which he made the argument that Goldman's prop trading unit is largely irrelevant to the firm. Alas, as the last quarter showed, it was. A lot. $2.5 billion worth. Net result: GS stock is now trading at imminent MBO levels, and more importantly, there is no joy in bankerville:
- GOLDMAN NAMES SMALLEST CLASS OF MANAGING DIRECTORS SINCE 2008
- GOLDMAN SACHS PROMOTES 261 EMPLOYEES TO MANAGING DIRECTOR
However as the video below proves, it still does, and always will, feel good to be a banker.
I add some real BoomBustBlog style meat to an already interesting Bloomberg piece that poses the question, "Can Goldman or JPM start a worldwide bank run?" Well, I think you all know my stance on this.
Last week, an article by Fred Kaufman in Foreign Policy magazine ripped off a gangrenous scab: the topic of Goldman manipulating markets, a theme extensively dissected over the past two years, only in this case a rather sensitive one: that of food prices. Since the topic of Goldman being involved in market manipulation is nothing new to Zero Hedge, which first exposed the firm's prop trading shenanigans in 2009, a trope that was merely validated when Lucas van Praag responded to our allegations, to be promptly followed by Volcker making prop trading by banks semi-illegal, we were not surprised to read this piece. What did surprises is that Goldman once again exhibited horrendous PR sense by issuing yet another Lucas van Praag response, literally minutes ago, in the same venue. While van Praag does touch upon some valid points, the overall response is beyond weak and along the lines of the traditional excuse: "we generously provide liquidity/markets/capital, etc." which merely exacerbates the overarching theme: Goldman's relentless condescension, and assumption that it always is dealing with idiots who have no idea how the firm operates. As Goldman is about to find out, this will do nothing but generate a firestorm of angry responses by the "non-faceless" crowd which will now have a scapegoat to blame, since by taking he defensive, Goldman once again validates the allegation. What happens next to Goldman, and the GSCI, is unclear but will likely not be favorable in light of Obama's recent witchhunt against "speculators." Yet at the end of the day what can one expect from a firm that will always have to live with the following classical example of shooting itself in the foot: "When asked about these emails, Mr. Swenson also denied that Goldman had attempted to squeeze the CDS short market. He claimed that the cost of single name CDS shorts had gone too high, and the purpose behind Goldman’s actions was to restore balance to the market. Mr. Swenson could not explain, however, why in an effort to restore balance to the market, he used the phrases “cause maximum pain,” and “this will have people totally demoralized".”
Carl Levin To Refer Goldman To Justice Department, SEC For Misleading Investors And Committing PerjurySubmitted by Tyler Durden on 04/13/2011 20:23 -0400
Yesterday JPMorgan, today Goldman (again) and Deutsche Bank. Following the completion of a two-year report by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee of Investigations into the role of Goldman and other banks in the housing collapse, the FT reports that "US Senate investigators probing the financial crisis will refer evidence about Wall Street institutions including Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank to the justice department for possible criminal investigations, officials said on Wednesday." According to Carl "Shitty Deal" Levin, head of the subcommittee, "banks mis-sold mortgage-backed securities and misled investors and lawmakers. “We will be referring this matter to the justice department and to the SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission],” he said. “In my judgment, Goldman clearly misled their clients and they misled Congress.” Bloomberg further clarifies: "At a briefing today, Levin said he believed Goldman Sachs executives weren’t truthful about the company’s transactions in testimony before the subcommittee at an April 2010 hearing. He said he would refer the testimony to the Justice Department for possible perjury charges...In my judgment, Goldman clearly misled their clients and they misled the Congress.” Levin said. And Deutsche Bank's Greg "I am short your house" Lippmann was not spared either: "Republicans and Democrats signed off on the report, which said Greg Lippmann, Deutsche’s top CDO trader, referred to assets underlying the securities as “crap” and “pigs” at the same time as his bank was selling them to clients. Prior to the crisis, Mr Lippmann built a short position in CDOs, betting that they would fall in value, even though Deutsche had a large long position on the securities." Just more smoke and mirrors? Or are we getting to a critical mass where even the very corrupt judicial system will have to respond?
Ever since Zero Hedge's advent just over two years ago, one of the most improper things we claimed happened routinely on Wall Street, was that the big banks' prop traders would consistently, and completely against regulations, populate their massive trading floors with both flow and prop traders, who often sat side by side, within earshot and front run the big clients' orders. Some may recall that point #8 of our follow up query to Goldman's Lucas van Praag in December 2009 was precisely a request to get the seating chart together with assigned responsibilities of all Goldman traders. To wit: "we are still hoping to get a seating chart of Goldman's trading floor (via legitimate channels) which clearly discloses flow and prop traders' seats in order to disclose to the general public that flow and prop traders do not share the same information flow, especially that emanating from core clients who tend to move markets the second they announce their trading axes to Goldman's flow traders." The reason we bring it up is that once again we seem to have been just a year ahead of the curve. In a just announced settlement, the SEC has fined Merrill, and supposedly its insolvent Bank of Calcutta taxpayer funded holdco, $10 million for doing precisely this! From Bloomberg: "The SEC found that Merrill operated a proprietary trading desk from 2003 to 2005 on the firm’s main equity-trading floor in New York, where market makers received and executed customer orders. While Merrill told clients their order information would be used on a need-to-know basis, proprietary traders got information and used it to place trades on Merrill’s behalf after executing the customer orders, according to the statement"...... So, does everyone finally understand how Goldman's (et al) prop group has no trading loss day (at near 50% margins) every single day year after year now?
Update: Goldman responds
We received an interesting letter from a reader...
SEC's announcement of a paltry and ridiculously small $550 million Goldman settlement a few minutes before market close means all is well with the economy (and presumably the resignation of Lloyd Blankfein now that Goldman admits it is not admitting fraud). We presume whatever backdoor cash is involved will also stop the Cuomo criminal case into Goldman. The tactical surgical strike to ramp the market also coincided with last minute announcement that BP has halted a leak - which was the expected pressure test and is not news at all, but who cares -buy buy buy! In other news: ES and SPY disconnect massively, as nothing makes sense any more.
Yesterday, Zero Hedge summarized our thoughts on David Viniar's claim that it is impossible for Goldman to present derivative revenues on a standalone basis. Today, we provide Goldman the chance to "set the record straight" on the issue. Here is Goldman's side, courtesy of Lucas van Praag. We are surprised that Mr. van Praag focused on the more shallow issue of the daily P&L production which the firm provides for broad firm consumption: various Goldman groups under the FICC umbrella (and under the narrower "prop-trading" definition) have their own formats, and we are happy to present to our readers the non-mortgage daily P&Ls, if Goldman would be so kind as to provide it to us. Perhaps the delineation of derivative P&L is far more specific the CDS trading group (alas, we currently do not have access to that specific form P&L). Mr. van Praag, however, did not answer our inquiry as to whether the firm keeps track of cash and derivative P&Ls by strategy, which is a far more relevant issue. For the record, we are still 100% confident that a P&L track by strategy, and subsequent stripping of cash legs is a simple enough exercise, and one firm's self-respecting back office can complete such a task in minutes.
Goldman's David Viniar is currently being grilled in the second day of the FCIC's hearings by Brooksley Born, who is asking the smartest questions of the CFO we have ever heard on TV. The webcast can be seen here. The main question being hammered again and again is why and how did Goldman profit twice on AIG, first by being bailed out by taxpayers, when the firm received a par payout on its collateral exposure with the insurer, and secondly, and much more importantly, how and why the firm made a profit of $1.2 billion by buying and selling CDS on the insurer, which comports with Lloyd Blankfein's previous statement that the firm was fully insured against an AIG collapse. This is a topic Zero Hedge has covered since March of 2009. Much more important at this point is the tangent of the circumstances surrounding the AIG CDS sale: we harken back to our post from January 2010, titled "Did Goldman Sell Its $2.5 Billion AIG CDS While In Possession Of Material, Non-Public Information?" in which we speculated that not only did Goldman receive an unfair second profit via the CDS, but that in fact it sold this insurance while potentially in possession of material non-public information. Now that this topic has finally surfaced to the broader population, we would like to once again bring attention to it, and we hope Brooksley Born has a chance to follow up on it.
With daily geopolitical, natural resource and sovereign liquidity crises suddenly becoming the norm, it is easy to get sidetracked from other very important issues, in which, at least until recently, moderate progress had been achieved. Primary among these is the seeming disconnect (at least when compared to other banks such as Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers) in the preferential treatment of Goldman Sachs. Now that Goldman is a household name, courtesy of a variety of litigation overtures, both in the civil and criminal arena, demonstrated by Goldman's popularity among the broader population, the firm has been kind enough to publicize its "Code of Business Conduct and Ethics" in an attempt to placate the concerned populace, and demonstrate that Goldman has a whopping 4 pages dedicated to promoting legal behavior amongst its nearly 30,000 employees. What confuses us is the placement at the very end of this document of the following section, Waivers of This Code, in which one reads: "From time to time, the firm may waive certain provisions of this Code." In other words, Goldman's activities comply fully with legality until such time that Goldman decides it is in the name of the greater good to "waive" this compliance. We are confused that in light of this glaring loophole, not one question has been asked of Mr. Blankfein as to what specific circumstances have necessitated the invocation of the "ethics waiver", by either executive and non-executive employees: something which none other than former Goldman CEO Hank Paulson recently used in order to pursue the full taxpayer-funded rescue of precisely this firm. Which is why, in the absence of others doing so, we have decided to ask this question directly of Goldman head of PR Lucas van Praag.
When Zero Hedge first wrote about the adverse role of prop trading in capital markets, long before it was a mainstream issue, which in turn incited the response of one Lucas van Praag, in which they assured us and our readers that there were never any issues with Goldman's prop trading desk and that all concerns about prop trading are misplaced. A few months later one of the luminaries of modern finance picked up the Zero Hedge banner and proposed a rule that would end banking prop trading for ever, in essence overriding Mr. van Praag explanation. Yet for the past three months most had left the Volcker Rule for dead, after the banking lobby had once again bought a two year full recourse lease on Obama and his cronies. Until the last two weeks, when first on May 6 we saw what happens how an entire market, gripped in computerized gambling and speculating can break in the span of a few minutes, without doubt facilitated by the banks' prop operations, and also when we saw that the big 4 banks had monopolized prop trading to such an extent (and disingenuously masking it as flow trading: yeah, right, flow trading with a VaR of $150 million... better luck finding greater idiots next time) that none had a losing day, in essence making Madoff's ponzi scheme, with its worse "win" track record a joke in comparison with the ponzi that the market has become. Which is why we read with great satisfaction in the FT that the banking lobby's power is slipping at a critical time: this week the Volcker Rule will be voted on by the Senate, and it may very well pass, despite the "cornered rat" response by the banks. As the FT notes, "the political mood is such that a straight vote on derivatives would be close and the Volcker Rule would be likely to pass." Should the Volcker Rule pass, this will be the beginning of the end for the current casino capitalism system that has gripped Wall Street. And don't be surprised to see a 10% drop in the market as a last ditch self defense mechanism by the primary dealers.
Time for the media circus to go nuts. The AP reports that the Feds have just opened a criminal probe into Goldman: now it is getting interesting. And everyone was thinking that Eric Holder is a toothless puppet (well, that still has to be refuted).
Since I haven't been able to get you or anyone from Goldman Sachs to appear on my show in months, perhaps we can just try corresponding in writing. Thank you for your press release. I have submitted my follow-up questions in bold...
By Dylan Ratigan