How Goldman deals with the government

By Felix Salmon
June 8, 2010

Comment of the day comes from HBC, on the subject of the FCIC’s Goldman subpoena:

Aww, cut Goldman some slack willya… They’re just not used to cooperating with the government. For years, it’s always been the other way round.

Stephen Gandel tries to do just that, turning the tables on the FCIC:

Is anyone surprised that the FCIC got billions of documents? …

The real question is what is the FCIC looking for, and does it even know…

How about calling up the heads of CDO trading at every other bank? Goldman wasn’t the only bank pitching synthetic CDOs. There are still a lot of issues that have been barely touched, and Phil, baby, its June, there ain’t that much time left.

Firstly, yes, the enormity of the Goldman document dump is surprising. The FCIC asked in January for “documents and information concerning Goldman’s synthetic and hybrid collateralized debt obligations based on mortgage-backed securities”, with a deadline of February 26. Goldman asked for an extension, and was given until March 5. Then Goldman asked for a second extension, and was given until March 8. And then Goldman’s submission was inadequate, but the FCIC allowed Goldman some time off because it was dealing simultaneously with requests from the Senate.

After the Senate hearings were over, at the end of April, the FCIC started badgering Goldman again, and was eventually told that the information would arrive on May 3; on May 4, more incomplete information arrived. Lots more back-and-forth resumed, and far from trying to help out, Goldman simply said that they had already provided everything asked for back on March 8. Eventually, on May 18, the five-terabyte document dump began: that’s roughly 2.5 billion pages. More back-and-forth, including a further incomplete submission on May 21; eventually the subpoena was issued on June 4.

You can see the running-out-the-clock here. And you can also see how the data dump was not a good-faith attempt to comply with the FCIC’s request. Gandel writes:

They asked for all the documents for all the synthetic or hybrid deals Goldman has ever done on residential or commercial mortgages. Goldman did hundreds of those deals. And the offering documents alone for each of those deals would be hundreds of pages. The correspondence between bankers could be thousands of pages.

Fine. Let’s say 10,000 pages per deal, and 1,000 deals. That’s 10 million pages. Multiply by 10 for good measure, we’re up to 100 million pages. We’re still in the realm of a rounding error compared to the billions of pages that Goldman provided.

It’s worth remembering here that, pace Gandel’s broader point, Goldman is just one of many different lines of inquiry that the FCIC is pursuing. Yes, the FCIC is looking at other banks, and the ratings agencies, and all manner of other players in the crisis. It’s not like they’re concentrating on Goldman alone. And Goldman knows that, so they know also that if they’re obstructive and unhelpful, there’s not much that the FCIC is going to be able to do to them before its time runs out.

Except, you know, start pillorying them in public and serving them with subpoenas.

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