Goldman Sachs is back in the spotlight. This time, there is a chorus of disgust being expressed about how Goldman conducts its business. Back in June of 2009, Matt Taibbi famously characterized Goldman Sachs in the following terms:
The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.
The latest episode of predation by the Vampire Squid concerns an August 16 report prepared by Alan Brazil, a member of Goldman’s trading team. Brazil prepared the 54-page presentation for the firm’s institutional clients as a guide to the impending economic collapse with some trading strategies to benefit from that event. Page 3 of the report starts with the headline: “Here We Go Again”. The statement was prescient in that the report itself initiated a renewed, consensual effort to condemn Goldman. Page 4 has the headline: “The Underlying Problem May Be Structural And Created By the Housing Bubble”. The extent to which the underlying problem may have been caused by Goldman Sachs had been previously discussed by Matt Taibbi, who explained Goldman’s propensity to act the way it always has:
If America is circling the drain, Goldman Sachs has found a way to be that drain . . .
Shah Gilani of Forbes reacted to the publication of Alan Brazil’s report with the following statement, which was used for the title of his own article:
In my opinion, Goldman isn’t just a travesty of a mockery of a sham, it is a criminal enterprise and worthy of being stepped on itself.
Susan Pulliam and Liz Rappaport broke the story on Goldman’s “Dark View” for The Wall Street Journal:
The report, released by the Hedge Fund Strategies group in Goldman’s securities division, provides a glimpse into the trading ideas that are generated for hedge funds through strategists, such as Mr. Brazil, who are part of Goldman’s trading operation rather than its research group.
Such strategists sit alongside the traders who are executing trades for their clients. Unlike analysts in firms’ research divisions—who are supposed to be walled off from information about the activity of the firm’s clients—these desk strategists have a front-row seat for viewing the ebb and flow of clients’ investment plays.
They can see if there is a groundswell of interest among hedge funds in taking bearish bets in a certain sector, and they watch trading volumes dry up or explode. Their point of view is informed by more, and often confidential, information about clients than analysts’ opinions, making their research and ideas highly prized by traders.
The report itself makes note that the information included isn’t considered research by Goldman. “This material is not independent advice and is not a product of Global Investment Research,” the report notes.
The idea that such a gloomy assessment had not been shared with the general public has become a frequently-expressed complaint. Michael T. Snyder wrote a piece for Seeking Alpha, which provided this explanation for the lack of candor:
As I wrote about the other day, the financial world is about to hit the panic button. Things could start falling apart at any time. Most of these big banks will not publicly admit how bad things are, but privately there is a whole lot of freaking out going on.
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You aren’t going to hear the truth from the media or from our politicians, because keeping people calm is much more of a priority to them than is telling the truth.
Henry Blodget of The Business Insider dissuaded the “little people” from getting any grandiose ideas after reading Brazil’s briefing:
Unfortunately, lest you think your knowledge of this semi-secret report will finally allow you to out-trade hedge funds, it won’t. The hedge funds got the report on August 16th. As usual, you’re the last to know.
Beyond that, there is Goldman’s longstanding reputation for “front running” its own clients, which must have inspired this remark in a critique of Alan Brazil’s report, appearing at the Minyanville website:
Coincidentally, he had some surefire trading strategies for clients interested in capitalizing on this trend. Presumably, Goldman’s own traders began bidding the various recommended hedges up some time earlier, a possibility Goldman discloses up front.
So this is what the squid is down to these days: peddling the obvious to the bottom-feeders below it in the financial food chain.
By now, those commentators who had criticized Matt Taibbi for his tour de force against Goldman (such as Megan McArdle) must be experiencing a bit of remorse. Meanwhile, those of us who wrote items appearing at GoldmanSachs666.com are exercising our bragging rights.