Blankfein, Cohn And Viniar Were All Closely Supervising Goldman's Mortgage Unit Operations

One of the most ludicrous claims over the past few days has been that the shady aspect of Goldman's mortgage unit operations began and ended with Fabrice Tourre, as per the SEC's complaint. The NYT's Louise Story has just disclosed the far too obvious: "By early 2007, Goldman’s mortgage unit had become a hive of intense activity. By then, the business had captured the attention of senior management. In addition to Mr. Blankfein, Gary D. Cohn, Goldman’s president, and David A. Viniar, the chief financial officer, visited the mortgage unit frequently, often for hours at a time." Louise presents a comprehensive analysis of the chronological shift in mood over US real estate among Goldman's ranks, in which it become obvious that the very heads of Goldman were instrumental in making the critical decision to part ways with Wall Street's optimistic groupthink, driven primarily by the input of Goldman salesmen who listened to hedge funds and advised the firm's executives and analysts (coupled with the input of Tourre and Egol) that some of the "smartest" money was turning bearish on real estate as early as 2006.

We also get some insight into the topology of Goldman's mortgage group:

At the heart of all of this is the mortgage trading unit that, at its peak, employed several hundred people. As recently as 2007, Goldman’s mortgage division was split into 11 subgroups, each with a specialty, according to an internal Goldman document that was provided to The New York Times by a former employee.

Together, these groups stood astride the nation’s real estate market. One group, for instance, handled actual home loans. Another provided mortgage advice. A third syndicated loans among banks. And still another handled commercial real estate.

During the boom, Goldman’s mortgage unit was a leader on Wall Street. In 2006 alone, the bank underwrote $26 billion of collateralized debt obligations, according to Dealogic, a financial data provider. Many C.D.O.’s have since turned out to be bad investments.

Furthermore, we learn that as expected it was Jonathan Egol who is truly the Abacus-man, not his then-28 year old underling:

A few desks away, Mr. Tourre and Mr. Egol were quietly working on the Abacus deals.

They were, former colleagues say, something of an odd couple. A slight man with a flair for salesmanship, Mr. Tourre joined Goldman in 2001, after coming to the United States to study business operations at Stanford. At Goldman, he courted investors like European banks and big hedge funds.

The taller Mr. Egol, a specialist in analytical finance with a quiet but sometimes intimidating demeanor, devised the Abacus investments. He came to Goldman after studying aerospace engineering at Princeton and finance at the Booth School of the University of Chicago.

The critical inflection point in the firm's point of view occurred in December 2006, a month before the Abacus CDO deal was created.

Goldman’s top ranks changed its stance on housing in December 2006. In a meeting in a windowless conference room on the executive floor, Mr. Viniar, the chief financial officer, and Mr. Cohn, the president, gathered about 10 executives for a briefing. Mr. Sparks, the head of the mortgage unit, walked them through the numbers. The group was unanimous: Goldman had to reduce its exposure to the increasingly troubled mortgage market.

A few months later, in February 2007, senior executives began turning up on the trading floor. The message, one former employee said, was clear: management was watching.

We also find out that the buck certainly did not stop with Egol:

Goldman managers instructed Mr. Egol in early 2007 to add insurance against mortgage bonds.

Thus it becomes clear that the reason why everyone is accusing the SEC of unbridled hypocrisy, is that should the regulator be interested in truly pursuing justice, it would not isolate a 31 year old underling whose only fault was being smart and charismatic. The chain of command ran all the way to the top. If the SEC finds wrongdoing in Tourre's conduct (and points 48 and 49 of the complaint are certainly compelling) it should pursue retribution not just from this relatively minor cog in the system, but proceed to the very top of the decision-making process, which as we now know, culminated with the firm'sEO, COO and CFO.


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