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Goldman’s “True Blood” moment


matthewgoldstein-Matthew Goldstein is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.-

Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein has an image problem on his hands.

The most ardent critics of his firm are likening it to a blood-sucking vampire, while others simply see the Wall Street investment bank as a greedy and ruthless financial titan. But there is a way for Blankfein to start turning public opinion around, and that involves a quick buyout of ailing mid-market lender CIT Group, which provides financing to some retailers, manufacturers and aviation operators.

While a collapse of New York-based CIT would not pose the kind of systemic risk that last September’s bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers did, the lender’s sudden disappearance from the market would make it even more difficult for some small- and mid-sized American companies to finance their operations.

A CIT bankruptcy would also prolong the worst recession since the Great Depression and rekindle investor jitters about the overall strength of the financial sector.

But Goldman could easily avert a crisis in mid-America by swooping in and buying the lender, which has some $60 billion in debt. It wouldn’t take much for Goldman, which last summer provided $3 billion in secured financing to CIT, to get a deal done.

Derivatives league table

Goldman Sachs is moving up the derivatives charts—with a bullet.

In the latest ranking of US banks with large derivatives exposure, Goldman moves up from fourth place to second, according a report from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currencey. The notional value of Goldman’s derivatives contracts at the end of the first quarter was $39.9 trillion, up from $30.2 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2008.

Goldman leapfrogged over Citigroup and Bank of America. The total value of derivatives contracts is down a bit at Citi and holding steady at BofA compared to the fourth quarter. That’s not too surprisingly, given that those two banks continuing problems with troubled assets on their balance sheets.

Goldman’s derivatives puzzle

Earlier today I posted an item saying that Goldman Sachs is hard as ever to figure out, based on the kind of information (or lack thereof) that it publishes about its operations.  I focused on a little-known Goldman real estate management company called Archon Group.

And now comes derivatives guru Janet Tavakoli with a nice followup, noting that Goldman offers few details in regulatory filings about its derviatives business, despite having some big exposure to those often complex investment contracts.

Obama treads lightly on Wall Street

President Obama, in a speech on the financial crisis at Georgetown University in April, spoke eloquently about the need to move away from a Wall Street-fueled “bubble and bust economy.” But Obama’s proposal for overhauling the financial regulatory system falls well short of his stated goal of making “sure such a crisis never happens again.”

In fact, another major crisis is all but certain if the administration’s plan is enacted as is. I can’t tell you when. Nor can I tell you which financial institutions will be hardest hit. But it will happen because Obama took the path of least resistance when it came to the thorny issue of handling financial institutions that are deemed too big to fail.