As observant readers will recall, a week ago we pointed out a letter in which the New York Fed's Steven Manzari instructed AIG to stand down on all discussions with counterparties on "tearing up/unwinding CDS trades on the CDO portfolio." At the time we focused on the word "stand down" as an indication of the Fed's lead role in the process. At this point there is no doubt that the FRBNY, together with its law firm, Davis Polk, were in the pilot's seat during the entire AIG negotiation, and while Tim Geithner may not have been the responsible man for this, someone must have been - and for the record, our money is a double or nothing on recently promoted FRBNY Senior Vice President Sarah Dahlgren, who as of January 21st is in charge of the Fed's Special Investments [AIG] Management Group. We sure hope Sarah gets the chance to recall her memories beginning in the fateful month of September 2008 when she became the person in charge of the FRBNY's AIG relationship. But back to the letter - little did we know that our focus was on the right sentence... but on the wrong word. What should have struck us front and center, was Habayeb's admission that contract "tear downs" had been evaluated. This means that someone, aside from AIG, must have expressed an interest in a tear down, which if true would have dramatic consequences for the entire AIG debacle. Today, the WSJ presented the missing piece of the puzzle.
In tonight's Heard On The Street section, the WSJ notes:
As everybody knows, AIG got a huge government bailout in September 2008 to help make payments on derivatives contracts with banks, including Goldman. Yet in the previous month, Goldman approached AIG about "tearing up" its contracts, according to a November 2008 analysis by BlackRock, then an adviser to the New York Fed. So was Goldman prepared to offer AIG a haircut in the month before its rescue? A legitimate question, given that Goldman refused to accept such a cut when the New York Fed raised the idea after it bailed out AIG.
The implications of this discovery are huge as they essentially destroy all the arguments presented by the FRBNY about an inability to extract concession out of Goldman (which being the largest AIG CDO counterparty, was the critical negotiating factor). It also casts doubt on the veracity of any arguments presented in Congress by Goldman representatives discussing the potential to take a haircut on their AIG exposure. What this means in plain English is that, in the month before the Fed entered the scene, GOLDMAN SACHS ITSELF OFFERED TO TEAR DOWN THE CDS ON AIG'S CDO PORTFOLIO (we don't use caps lock lightly). This is basically a smoking gun on the moral hazard issue perpetrated by the FRBNY when it got involved, and indicates that through their involvement, Tim Geithner, Sarah Dahlgren or whoever, not only did not save US taxpayers' money, but in fact ended up costing money, when they funded the marginal difference between par (the make whole price given to all AIG counterparties after AIG was told to back off in its negotiations) and whatever discount would have been applicable to the contract tear down that had been proposed by Goldman a mere month earlier. This, more so than anything presented up to now, is the true scandal behind the New York Fed's involvement.
If this November Blackrock report indeed exists, and if Goldman did in fact offer to tear down contracts, this is an act of near criminal implications and heads at the FRBNY must roll immediately.
We hope this is the number one question asked by Chairman Towns of Mr. Geithner. But as the latter will plead the fifth due to his lack of involvement, we kindly suggest that the correct person, the person who can not claim lack of knowledge on the AIG situation due to a prior recusal, and is therefore the right person to grill before a live studio audience, is the FRBNY's Sarah Dahlgren: as it stands, Wednesday will merely be yet another spectacle, in which Geithner will claim stupidity, and this time very likely get away with it: is there any wonder why he agreed to provide testimony so promptly after his "invitation." What about Goldman's Stephen Friedman - did he accept the invitiation yet? How about Goldman's Hank Paulson? It sure must be nice to have the luxury to kindly decline the privilege of providing sworn testimony, and avoid perjury.
Goldman representatives, Lloyd Blankfein among them preferably, have to be on the stand next to Geithner, as they are the people who have bee at the core of this whole problem from the start till bitter end.
Last but not least, was it not Mr. Blankfein who just two weeks ago, before the FCIC committee, noted he had never gotten a request to take less than 100 cents on the dollar on AIG CDS? So what happens if it was he who offered less than 100 cents? Should that maybe have been at least mentioned in passing? Is that some equivalent of perjury, or will the semantics lawyers come out in force?