Stephen Foley: Why Goldman boss is not going to prison
Saturday 16 April 2011
US Outlook: The idea of prosecuting Lloyd Blankfein for perjury is a non-starter, regardless of whether you think it an outrage that neither he nor any of his subordinates at Goldman Sachs is behind bars.
The claim that the investment bank's chief executive might have lied under oath comes from Carl Levin, whose committee produced a scathing report on the crisis and Goldman's role in it this week. He said he would pass his report to the Department of Justice.
Senator Levin says Goldman executives lied by telling his committee they did not, as a firm, make a giant bet against the mortgage market in 2007. In fact, he said, they made a $3.7bn killing from short-selling mortgage positions similar to those being aggressively marketed to unsuspecting clients elsewhere in the bank.
Unfortunately for the senator, there is no contradiction between the two. Mr Blankfein and others admitted the firm was periodically net short; overall, Goldman's long positions – the mortgage-related assets it had to keep on its books while it created derivatives for its clients – reduced its mortgage profits to $500m in 2007 (and then they went into the red with the rest of Wall Street in 2008).
Senator Levin and Mr Blankfein talked past each other at the hearing last year; they continue to talk a different language now. The politician's "betting against its clients" is Wall Street's "hedging its position" (which, by the way, is the kind of risk management we want from our banks, so we don't ever have to bail them out again).
Linguistic nuance is not a criminal matter. When Senator Levin calls, the Justice Department will give him short shrift.
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