Bethany McLean pens a good article on Goldman for Vanity Fair. She gets the internal view from CEO Lloyd Blankfein and COO Gary Cohn on why Goldman’s really better than the competition and why they didn’t really need the government’s help. She’s properly critical of this. One reader passes on this telling paragraph:
Goldman’s press releases about its spectacular earnings never mention government assistance of any kind. In June, the firm paid back the $10 billion in tarp funds it had taken. Taxpayers got a 23 percent return. As for the $21.6 billion in funds guaranteed by the F.D.I.C. that Goldman still has outstanding, a recent Congressional report estimates that it will save Goldman $2.4 billion over the life of the debt. But Cohn argues that that is actually costing the firm, in fees to the F.D.I.C. and interest, because it is excess liquidity. (When I repeat that to another Wall Streeter, he closes his eyes and says, “Please tell me Gary didn’t say that.”) Cohn also says that issuing the F.D.I.C. debt was “the single biggest mistake we made.”
Including commercial paper, Goldman borrowed as much as $28 billion in FDIC guaranteed debt. Lest people forget how desperate they were for the funding, Joe Hagan’s New York Mag piece noted they were the first to borrow using the program.
Salvation came on November 25, a few days after Goldman’s stock price plunged to $52 a share, down from the year’s high of $200 and the lowest price the company had seen since it went public. Again, the white knight was the government. It turned out that Goldman’s conversion to a garden-variety bank-holding company offered an amazing advantage: Goldman now had access to incredibly cheap money. Exploiting its new status, Goldman became the first financial institution to sell $5 billion in government-backed bonds through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which allowed Goldman to start doing deals when the markets were at a near standstill. “Goldman was desperate for it,” says a prominent Goldman alumnus. “Everybody knows it. Those FDIC notes they got were lifesaving because they couldn’t issue any debt. If it had gone on another week or two, Goldman would have failed, they would have gone the way of Lehman, and you’d be talking about Lloyd the way you talk about [Lehman CEO] Dick Fuld.”
As the memory of Fall ’08 recedes, the reality that all of Wall Street would have collapsed were it not for bailouts and guarantees is slowly being forgotten. But at least folks are still angry about it. And the mainstream media is doing a decent job keeping the heat on.
There’s much more in the piece.