I spent all of Tuesday glued to my television set watching this circus of Senator Levin's committee's fact finding hearings on Goldman Sachs' practices as a market-maker and deal structurer. My emotions fluctuated between anger, frustration, nausea and, on rare occasion, amusement. To call the hearing "fact finding" was absurd. It was politics at its worst - politicians pandering to the public's anger over economic conditions and their ignorance of financial markets and the root causes of the housing bubble.
I am not saying that Goldman Sachs has never done a bad thing. However, I think the worst thing that they ever did was agree to testify before Senator Levin's Committee and be so poorly coached. I think they let themselves and the entire industry down.
At the very least, by this time in the cycle, didn't they understand and why weren't they prepared to do their mea culpas, accept responsibility for their part in the crisis, thank the American public for their assistance of TARP funds and humbly explain what a market-maker does? Couldn't they have foreseen questions like: "who did you put first the customer or Goldman Sachs?" The fact that the three bozos looked blankly at the senators unable to answer the question made me both laugh and cry.
David Viniar, CFO, did a remarkably good job. He was calm, cool and collected. And he didn't seem to mind repeating the facts over, over and over again. You would think that even a senator could understand. Perhaps his years of dealing with moronic questions from analysts on quarterly conference calls prepared him.
Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Lloyd Blankfein, Chairman. I thought the place he fell short was his inability to explain market-making activities to a third grader. I'm pretty sure Blankfein is smarter than a third grader although he certainly couldn't explain his business to one.
Sen. Levin for his part should be ashamed of himself. He held out that he understood what market-making was when he clearly did not. If indeed he did understand what market-making was all about, he did a pretty good job of pretending he didn't just so he could berate the Chairman of Goldman Sachs and make him look like the worst criminal the world had ever seen.
Furthermore, given the importance of his position it was inexcusable for him to repeatedly insist that Goldman Sachs was betting against its clients and American homeowners by shorting residential mortgage securities. Again, if he didn't understand hedging activities and was willing to ignore the data he was given by David Viniar (that Goldman Sachs made less than $500 million in 2007 and lost money in 2008 from their mortgage activities), suggesting Goldman Sachs made billions of dollars off the pain of American taxpayers was reprehensible.
For me, the worst part of the day was watching the evening news where reporters repeated the senators' allegations as gospel. The result was once again to reinforce the public views that greed on Wall Street needs to be reined in. It was also likely contributory to more tea party angst.
Furthermore, it was likely one of their key reasons that the Republicans gave up their filibuster of the financial reform bill. I fear that in the coming days we will continue to hear proposals that would not only hurt the earnings of large financial firms but have significant negative consequences for us industry and the economy.
Carole Berger is a financial services analyst at Soleil Securities.