Unstructured Finance

Goldman vs Goldman

By Jennifer Ablan and Matthew Goldstein

Goldman Sachs’s chief executive Lloyd Blankfein and his likely successor, Gary Cohn, issued a formal response today following a scathing op-ed in the New York Times from Greg Smith, who announced his resignation from the investment firm.

Smith, a banker who worked in Goldman’s equity derivatives group, asserted that several Goldman managing directors had referred to their own clients as “muppets.” In Britain, where Smith is based, “muppet” is used as a derogatory term to describe someone who is regarded as being ignorant.

You can read his list of complaints below.

For their part, Blankfein and Cohn wrote: “We were disappointed to read the assertions made by this individual that do not reflect our values, our culture and how the vast majority of people at Goldman Sachs think about the firm and the work it does on behalf of our clients.”

They added: “We are far from perfect, but where the firm has seen a problem, we’ve responded to it seriously and substantively.  And we have demonstrated that fact.”

We would love to hear where you stand on this matter — whether you work, worked, or want to work for Goldman Sachs. Twitter us @jennablan or @mattgoldstein26 or email.

Suite Scams revisited

Virtual offices can be a great cost-saver for a solo attorney, a lone accountant or any other professional who can’t afford the expense  of maintaining a separate support staff to run a business. But these outfits, in which a solo professional gets to essentially rent the services of a receptionist, a secretary and conference space, also can provide cover for bad guys bent on doing mischief.

A case in point is Robert Sucarato, a New Jersey man, who was sentenced Friday to 11 years in a federal prison for using a virtual office as a front for an alleged multi-billion hedge fund that bilked investors out of $1.6 million. A few years ago, when I was at BusinessWeek, I wrote about Sucarato long before federal prosecutors were on his trail. The BW story was called “Suite Scams” and it focused on much more than Sucarato and showed how virtual offices were proving to be a useful tool for Wall Street fraudsters with a slick website and a good marketing pitch.

Former federal prosecutors, back when I talked to them, said they were well aware of how  virtual offices were becoming the hallmarks of scams. But they said there was little  they could do to stop it since the due diligence requirements for virtual office operators are minimal.

UF’s Weekend Reads

Here is Sam Forgione’s suggested weekend reads. And a reminder to our UF readers in the US that daylight savings time begins on Sunday, so set those clocks forward 1 hour.

 

From The New Yorker:

Nick Paumgarten traversed the restless egos of Davos for a candid look at the event. The story captures the ambivalence many feel toward the well-hyped forum.

From The Atlantic:

Megan McCardle asks how and why companies get complacent, even when they know they’re sinking, using GM and Blockbuster as examples.

The Book of Goldman

View from Goldman Sachs office, Salt Lake City.

By Katya Wachtel and Lauren Tara LaCapra

Al Crutchfield, a 56-year-old cab driver who has spent most of his life in Salt Lake City, does not understand why so many Americans are angry at Goldman Sachs.

“Everyone seems to be so mad at them all the time, but I think it’s a good thing for Salt Lake that Goldman’s expanding here,” he said. “I drive lots of Goldman Sachs employees, so it’s good for my business, and their folks are really nice.”

Across America, and elsewhere, Goldman has often been the target of populist rage against Wall Street greed. But Al Crutchfield’s sentiment is not uncommon in this mountain city, where the investment bank has built up a cadre of back-office, technology, operations and research staff. It is now the investment bank’s fourth largest global operation, as Reuters reported Friday.

At Hedge Fund Gala, Hedge Funds MIA

By Katya Wachtel

The classic Wall Street haunt Cipriani, where Hedge Fund Cares held its annual children charity gala on Thursday night, was noticeably devoid of any people who work for hedge funds.

Instead, the room was filled with those who help keep hedge funds running; there was a ton of guests from the Big Four accounting firms, in particular KPMG, as well as  law firms, tax groups, and service providers like Citco and BTIG LLC. There were some hedge fund firms represented of course, including Fortress Investment Group and Tudor Investment Corp.

It seemed odd though, in light of the charity’s name, there were not more traders and portfolio managers in tow.

UF’s Weekend Reads

We’re introducing a new feature on UF: a link to some weekend reads. Here is the first edition complied by Sam Forgione.

 

From The Guardian:

Andrew Balls, head of European investment for PIMCO from its London office, shares similar views on Europe and regulation with his brother, Ed Balls, of the British Labour Party. Brotherly love even extended to one of PIMCO’s major investment decisions: when Bill Gross decided to sell UK government debt in 2010, and Andrew Balls allegedly disagreed with the move, apparently backing his brother’s political status.

From The New Deal 2.0:

An eye for an eye, a rebuttal for a rebuttal. Bruce Judson argues that Jamie Dimon’s vengeful jab at the media for making less money than JP Morgan is unfair. For one, banks are government-backed while media companies aren’t.

PIMCO and BlackRock go strolling down K Street

By Jennifer Ablan and Matthew Goldstein

Wall Street may hate financial regulatory reform, but lobbyists certainly love it—especially ones working on behalf of giant asset managers PIMCO and BlackRock, which control a total of nearly $5 trillion in assets.

Last year, PIMCO and BlackRock both upped their lobbying expenditures in a big way.

The not-for-profit group OpenSecrets.org reports that Bill Gross’s Pacific Investment Management Company spent $450,000 on lobbyists last year, up from $120,000 in 2010. BlackRock’s spending on lobbyists rose to $2.5 million in 2011, up from $1.45 million in the prior year.

Gordon Gekko’s Perfect Hedge

By Matthew Goldstein and Jennifer Ablan

It’s not every day a public service announcement, much less one for the FBI, makes national headlines. Then again, it’s not every day that Michael Douglas reprises his Gordon Gekko role to make a pitch for informants to come forward and help law enforcement smoke out insider traders.

The ad, which has been featured on network newscasts and was heavily touted on the front-page of The Wall Street Journal, highlights the task at hand for the likes of David Chaves, a senior agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“It’s gone viral,” says Chaves, who is one of the masterminds behind “Perfect Hedge,” the long-running undercover operation that has helped federal prosecutors secure the convictions of more than 50 people on insider trading charges.

Phil Angelides gives up his “secret formula”

By Matthew Goldstein and Jennifer Ablan

Phil Angelides, the former chairman of the commission set up by Congress to look into the causes of the financial crisis, is no longer part of a group seeking to turn a profit by investing in distressed mortgages.

A representative for Angelides emailed a statement to Reuters saying the former California state treasurer stepped down as executive chairman of the upstart firm, Mortgage Resolution Partners, on Jan. 27. Angelides, as we reported today, stepped down about two weeks after our exclusive story about his role with the firm was published by Reuters.

Angelides’ role sparked controversy because the firm touted its political connections as part of its “secret formula” for negotiating deals to buy distressed mortgages.

Paul after PIMCO

 

By Jennifer Ablan and Matthew Goldstein

Paul McCulley says working at bond giant PIMCO was like being in Camelot. But in some ways, Bill Gross’s former top Federal Reserve watcher seems a lot happier and more at peace with himself since leaving the Newport Beach, Calif.-based firm at the end of 2010.

These days McCulley, who is credited with coining the phrase “shadow banking” to describe the role Wall Street banks and hedge funds play in pumping liquidity into the financial system, looks more like a professor at some liberal arts college than a once mighty money manager of some $50 billion.

His hair is long—down to his shoulders. He sports a beard and has lost 20 pounds. He regularly walks 8 miles a day and spends as much time fishing as he does thinking about ways to get the U.S. economy out of its current liquidity trap—a situation in which all the Fed’s priming of the pump does little until consumers can get relief from all the mortgage and credit card debt they accumulated in the past decade.

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