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Monday, April 19, 2010

Goldman Sachs: Too Big to Obey the Law

On a short-term tactical basis, Goldman Sachs clearly has little to fear. It has relatively deep pockets and will fight the securities "Fab" allegations tooth and nail; resolving that case, through all the appeals stages, will take many years. Friday's announcement had a significant negative impact on the market perception of Goldman's franchise value - partly because what they are accused of doing to unsuspecting customers is so disgusting. But, as a Bank of America analyst (Guy Mozkowski) points out this morning, the dollar amount of this specific allegation is small relative to Goldman's overall business and - frankly - Goldman's market position is so strong that most customers feel a lack of plausible alternatives.
The main action, obviously, is in the potential widening of the investigation (good articles in the WSJ today, but behind their paywall). This is likely to include more Goldman deals as well as other major banks, most of which are generally presumed to have engaged in at least roughly parallel activities – although the precise degree of nondisclosure for adverse material information presumably varied. Two congressmen have reasonably already drawn the link to the AIG bailout (how much of that was made necessary by fundamentally fraudulent transactions?), Gordon Brown is piling on (a regulatory sheep trying to squeeze into wolf's clothing for election day on May 6), and the German government would dearly love to blame the governance problems in its own banks (e.g., IKB) on someone else.
But as the White House surveys the battlefield this morning and considers how best to press home the advantage, one major fact dominates. Any pursuit of Goldman and others through our legal system increases uncertainty and could even cause a political run on the bank - through politicians and class action lawsuits piling on.
And, as no doubt Jamie Dimon (the articulate and very well connected head of JP Morgan Chase) already told Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner over the weekend, if we "demonize" our big banks in this fashion, it will undermine our economic recovery and could weaken financial stability around the world.
Dimon's points are valid, given our financial structure - this is exactly what makes him so very dangerous. Our biggest banks, in effect, have become too big to be held accountable before the law. LinkHere


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