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Monday, November 02, 2009

Goldman Sachs Seizing Homes Subprime Mortgages Bought

Goldman takes on new role: taking away people's homes

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — When California wildfires ruined their jewelry business, Tony Becker and his wife fell months behind on their mortgage payments and experienced firsthand the perils of subprime mortgages.

The couple wound up in a desperate, six-year fight to keep their modest, 1,500-square-foot San Jose home, a struggle that pushed them into bankruptcy.

The lender with whom they sparred, however, wasn't the one that had written their loans. It was an obscure subsidiary of Wall Street colossus Goldman Sachs Group.

Goldman spent years buying hundreds of thousands of subprime mortgages, many of them from some of the more unsavory lenders in the business, and packaging them into high-yield bonds. Now that the bottom has fallen out of that market, Goldman finds itself in a different role: as the big banker that takes homes away from folks such as the Beckers.

The couple alleges that Goldman declined for three years to confirm their suspicions that it had bought their mortgages from a subprime lender, even after they wrote to Goldman's then-Chief Executive Henry Paulson — later U.S. Treasury secretary — in 2003.

Unable to identify a lender, the couple could neither capitalize on a mortgage hardship provision that would allow them to defer some payments, nor on a state law enabling them to offset their debt against separate, investment-related claims against Goldman.
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How Goldman secretly bet on the U.S. housing crash

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By Greg Gordon McClatchy Newspapers
WASHINGTON — In 2006 and 2007, Goldman Sachs Group peddled more than $40 billion in securities backed by at least 200,000 risky home mortgages, but never told the buyers it was secretly betting that a sharp drop in U.S. housing prices would send the value of those securities plummeting.

Goldman's sales and its clandestine wagers, completed at the brink of the housing market meltdown, enabled the nation's premier investment bank to pass most of its potential losses to others before a flood of mortgage defaults staggered the U.S. and global economies.

Only later did investors discover that what Goldman had promoted as triple-A rated investments were closer to junk.

Now, pension funds, insurance companies, labor unions and foreign financial institutions that bought those dicey mortgage securities are facing large losses, and a five-month McClatchy investigation has found that Goldman's failure to disclose that it made secret, exotic bets on an imminent housing crash may have violated securities laws.

"The Securities and Exchange Commission should be very interested in any financial company that secretly decides a financial product is a loser and then goes out and actively markets that product or very similar products to unsuspecting customers without disclosing its true opinion," said Laurence Kotlikoff, a Boston University economics professor who's proposed a massive overhaul of the nation's banks. "This is fraud and should be prosecuted."

John Coffee, a Columbia University law professor who served on an advisory committee to the New York Stock Exchange, said that investment banks have wide latitude to manage their assets, and so the legality of Goldman's maneuvers depends on what its executives knew at the time.

"It would look much more damaging," Coffee said, "if it appeared that the firm was dumping these investments because it saw them as toxic waste and virtually worthless."
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