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So Maybe Citi Created A Mortgage-Backed Security Filled With Loans They Knew Were Going To Fail So That They Could Sell It To A Client Who Wasn’t Aware That They Sabotaged It By Intentionally Picking The Misleadingly Rated Loans Most Likely To Be Defaulted Upon, So What?

Citi today paid out some of its DVA gains to settle SEC charges that it sold investors a CDO-squared that facilitated its own naked CDS purchases on the underlying CDOs, while misleading investors into thinking that an independent collateral manager selected the underlying portfolio. If my grandmother reads Dealbreaker she’s now stopped.

Anyway. I’m proud of my time at Goldman, which I thought was a great place filled with smart and ethical people (really) and which also was a market leader in many areas, including paying fines for fraudulent CDO structuring fraud. In that line of business we were first both in time and in market share, settling Abacus for $550mm in July; JPMorgan’s $153.6mm Magnetar settlement came a week later and Citi didn’t get around to their $285mm entry (and Credit Suisse’s $2.5mm addition) until today.

Now, maybe it’s just my Goldman bias talking but I never really got the outrage at these things, which always seemed to come from importing an already incorrect understanding of how nonfinancial transactions work into a market-making, two-sided, financial markets context. But reading the Citi CDO documents, which are fascinating, I think makes it a little more comprehensible.

There are five points to which your free-floating rage could maybe attach:

1. You were shorting a thing that you were selling to your customers! This is what drove Congress bonkers. But that’s what selling is. If you have 20 apples and sell me 15, you now have fewer apples, and I have more. If apple prices decline, I am worse off, and you are relatively protected. Banks, which are always long some risks and short some others, don’t see zero as a particularly interesting point on this continuum – if you have 20 apples and sell me 30, and apple prices decline, you make money, but that’s different only in degree, not in kind, from selling me 15 and reducing your risk to 5.

2. You didn’t tell buyers you were short. Well, see above – someone had to be short, that’s what a synthetic CDO is. So buyers knew. But also, you did. From the SEC complaint:

43. Both the pitch book and the offering circular contained disclosure concerning Citigroup’s role as “Initial CDS Asset Counterparty,” including explanation of potential conflicts of interest resulting from Citigroup assuming that role. Page 88 of the 192-page offering circular included a statement that “[t]he Initial CDS Asset Counterparty may provide CDS Assets as an intermediary with matching off-setting positions requested by the Manager or may provide CDS Assets alone without any off-setting positions.” These disclosures did not provide any information about the extent of Citigroup’s interest in the negative performance of the collateral in Class V III, or that Citigroup already had short positions in $500 million of the collateral.

44. Notwithstanding that Class V III was structured as a “prop trade,” i.e. a vehicle into which Citigroup would short assets for its own account, Citigroup did nothing to ensure that the marketing documents accurately disclosed Citigroup’s actual interests in the collateral.

In other words, the SEC has a sad because Citi didn’t specifically tell clients that the other side of the market was Citi prop, rather than customer facilitation, although it did say “it might be.” Fortunately, that will no longer be a problem. Similarly (oppositely?), with Abacus the SEC was pissed that Goldman didn’t tell clients that the other side of the market was John Paulson, who had a stellar reputation for market clairvoyance for about 45 minutes (though those 45 minutes, to be fair, occurred after Abacus was already dead). But of course you’re not supposed to tell people who the other side of the market is. Banks have rules against telling buyers who the sellers were, and vice versa. That’s why you trade through a market maker: to preserve anonymity and avoid being front-run by competitors. Citi disclosed that it might have a conflict by being short; it just didn’t want to give away its whole book by explaining exactly how short it was and whether the risk was laid off elsewhere.

3. You picked the worst securities. This feels more compelling, but it isn’t. That’s what makes a market. If you want to buy an exposure for $100, all you can get is an exposure that someone else thinks is worth less than $100. If they thought it was worth more than $100, they wouldn’t sell it to you. In every securities transaction, each side thinks that it’s ripping off the other side. And the logic of “OH NOES DESIGNED TO FAIL” can take you too far: if Goldman had structured the bestest CDO ever known to man, would Paulson have a case against GS for selling him protection “designed not to pay off”?

4. You didn’t tell buyers that you picked the worst securities. That is no different from #3. They know you picked securities that you, or someone, was willing to sell. That is enough.

5. You told buyers that a third party was picking the securities and that that third party had both a brain and a heart. In some sense this is no different from #3 and #4. But I find it a bit more compelling, for reasons that are sort of depressing.

One might have a model of CDO investing that goes as follows: investors (hedge funds, German banks, monolines, whatever) want exposure to certain credits. They are professionals with paid credit analysis staffs. They go buy things that give them exposure to the credits they want exposure to at the price they are willing to pay. They are one side of an informed and efficient market in credit.

The CDO settlements suggest that this model turned out to be mostly false. The offering circular for Citi’s monstrosity doesn’t name the initial reference assets of the CDO-squared; it just says “A list of the portfolio of Eligible Collateral Debt Securities expected to be acquired by the Issuer on the Closing Date may be obtained upon request from the Initial Purchaser and the Placement Agent.” Clearly at least some investors did this (see below), but the offering document isn’t exactly putting reference security quality front-and-center, or making credit analysis transparent.

The correct model is more like CDO investors as retail mutual fund investors. They buy into funds/CDOs based on some complex of factors that may include their independent analysis of the general sort of stuff that the CDO is investing in, but also includes things like past results of the CDO manager, the quality of graphics in the pitchbook, and, um, the educational background of its employees. So the prospectus includes zero pages on what’s in the portfolio, and seven pages (101-107) on the Credit Suisse employees who will manage the CDO. (This includes analysts! I, for one, would be comforted to know that the team’s most junior member “joined [Leveraged Investment Group] as a credit analyst in 2006″ and “recently earned his Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Harvard University.”)

Here, Citi proposed the collateral for the CDO-squared, but investors were told that Credit Suisse Alternative Capital (CSAC) selected the collateral independently and with a rigorous selection process. Now, again, CSAC just can’t select collateral on its own – it needs to buy stuff (sell protection) that someone is willing to sell (buy protection). But still, CSAC’s judgment seems to have mattered to people. From the complaint again:

54. Citigroup also offered and sold notes with a par value of $343 million to the Subordinate Investors, a group of approximately fourteen (14) institutional investors including hedge funds, investment managers and other CDO vehicles. Citigroup provided the Subordinate Investors with marketing materials for Class V III, including the pitch book and offering circular.

55. At the time of their investments in Class V III, the Subordinate Investors were unaware of Citigroup’s role in selecting the investment portfolio, and many considered experience as a collateral manager and rigorous asset selection process to be important to their investment decision. One wrote in an internal investment memorandum, “We do think CSAC has a strong record in selecting good portfolios, but we are not 100% comfortable with their asset selection in this case, but since their franchise and structured credit platform is generally strong . . . we felt comfortable with this transaction.”

So this investor got the list of assets, did the credit analysis, didn’t like what they saw – and bought anyway, presumably concluding that nothing touched by a recent Harvard econ grad could possibly go wrong.

If you believed the “just do the credit analysis” model, then those investors were not fulfilling their market function and deserved what they got. But if you believe that they’re just supposed to be trusting rubes who have put their faith and their money in the hands of a collateral manager, then the fact that the collateral manager was a Citi captive is … troubling.

We probably do need to have a financial system where not every buyer of a financial product is expected to do their own detailed investment analysis, but is allowed to trust the manager. It’s probably (maybe?) a good thing for retail investors to be able to buy mutual funds without those funds just being mechanisms for managers to screw them. It’s less clear that the same logic applies to, say, hedge funds charging 2-and-20, but I’m willing to believe it applies to say small regional banks and pensions that might buy a CDO for the yield. But the fact that the trust-the-gatekeeper, we-couldn’t-possibly-be-expected-to-know-what-we-bought types seem to be the marginal buyer of products like CDO-squareds is troubling – for the financial system broadly, and for quirky areas like getting rid of the too-powerful role of ratings agencies.

Read that last quote one more time, by the way:

Citigroup also offered and sold notes with a par value of $343 million to the Subordinate Investors, a group of approximately fourteen (14) institutional investors including hedge funds, investment managers and other CDO vehicles.

Somebody was building a CDO-cubed out of this! So good! Maybe the next CDO settlement will come from a bank that was shorting that?

Citigroup in $285 Million Settlement for S.E.C. Charges [NYT]

Citi, Credit Suisse settle SEC CDO probe [FTAV]

SEC complaint [pdf]

Class V Funding III Offering Circular [pdf from ProPublica]

As for the sign/title [The Atlantic]

Disclosure: it is maybe worth pointing out that I didn’t work in, talk to, sit near, etc. etc. Goldman’s (or for that matter Citi’s) CDO business so no inside information. Also, as always, GS stock accounts for an ever-dwindling percentage of my net worth.

(hidden for your protection)
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121 Responses to “So Maybe Citi Created A Mortgage-Backed Security Filled With Loans They Knew Were Going To Fail So That They Could Sell It To A Client Who Wasn’t Aware That They Sabotaged It By Intentionally Picking The Misleadingly Rated Loans Most Likely To Be Defaulted Upon, So What?”

  1. DingALing says:

    This guy makes Atlas Shrugged sound like a blunt understand of Capitalism….

    -Guy waiting for a "shitty deal" reference

    • Guest says:

      fully enjoyed this article. but what we can determine from matt's last few months of commentary is that he thinks structured products issuers/creators are worse than inside traders.

  2. Guest says:

    Longer Matt, longer! Don't listen to 'em!

  3. pazzo83 says:

    Actually I didn't even make it through the title.

    – Levine's Grandma

  4. Guest says:

    No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, yes, no, no, no, no, no.

  5. TL;DR says:


  6. guest says:

    even the titles are getting really long

  7. ChartLover says:

    Where's the chart, Levine?

    • ShortNaked says:

      Its disappointing we were hoping to begin sponsoring his posts.

      -Chartis Marketing Department

  8. Guy with A.D.D. says:

    I understand there is no Pie Charts or Line Graphs that go with this aricle, but they never stopped you before Matt

  9. Tech Guy says:

    Forget the news the chart knows the news.

  10. Spanishmoon says:

    The fact that you cannot understand why these transactions are unethical and contrary to the interests of society and the industry at large explains your ability to pass Goldman's 73 interviews and psych profiling.

    You are living proof that it's easier to de-program Scientologists than Goldmanites……

    • PMCO_sucks says:

      Get a fuckin clue and come on down to Zucotti!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    • Guest of the Rest says:

      These transactions were conducted between sophisticated parties who understood how the market worked and what each other was doing. The lawsuits are promulgated by lawyers trying to insert vague concepts of "unfairness" into ethically-neutral events that are not "contrary to the interests of society" in any way other than they turned out to be bad investments, and managers lost money for their investors. The grandstanding SEC suits, congressional hearings and settlements are nothing more than political pandering. The torches and pitchforks are for the OWS crowd, the above article is for people who understand how the real world works. Nice work, Matt.

      • Guess says:

        thanks lloyd

      • Your second doubts says:

        Ouch. Spanishmoon left a mark by speaking the truth.

        Take off your lawyer and banker hat and try thinking for once.

      • early_hominid says:

        I think we can all agree that sophisticated parties need to be encouraged to continue doing their thing, and if, despite their best efforts to look out for themselves, they happen to open up an abyss from time to time that threatens to engulf civilization, no one should be heard to complain about the mostly unimpeachable behavior of said sophisticates and certainly no one should think of leveling a lot of irresponsible post hoc accusations that they have committed the type of fraudulent fraud (the worst kind!) that Mr. Levine so eloquently exonerates them from here. Well done, sir.

      • Rawls wept says:

        Well, of course how the world REALLY works is that there are lots of gatekeepers at huge institutional asset managers who are effectively bought and paid for by investment bankers either with boondoggles or because the individual in question is trying to curry favor to get a better job (say, at the investment bank). This is not to say anything ILLEGAL is going on, but to suggest that IBs try to drive a wedge between personal payoff and professional obligation is pretty uncontroversial.

        And that's unethical.

      • Kool-Aid Man says:

        Oh, Yeah!

        Thanks for speaking on behalf for the rest of us.

        (one of those people who *thinks* he knows how the real world works)

      • Spanishmoon says:

        I agree with most of what you said. But you miss my main points:

        1) Surely you cannot approve of fucking your customers, no matter how stupid they are; you can shear a sheep 100 times buy you can only skin him once

        2) the heat that all this shit brings on the industry is bad for all of us – it is a well known fact that many stupid German banks were stuck with this shit. Try selling them the next deal.

        • Short Term Thinker says:

          I don't understand.

          (guy who thinks he is part of the 1%, but really is not)

        • Guest says:

          As long as they have a 8% cost of capital and mandated 50% allocation to fixed in their pensions/gen accounts, they will keep buying whatever NYC is selling. Funny that a lot of these deals that came back look better than the debt of some of the other sov nations in Europe.

    • Guest says:

      I totally understand 100% of the content in this article.

      – #OWS

    • guestosaurus says:

      I'm pretty sure I just lost IQ points reading the above. Can you make more indefinable faux-moral statements?

  11. Ball so hard Citibank can't find me.

    -Milk's Grandma

    That shit crazy!

    -Senator Levin

  12. Guess says:

    "4. You didn’t tell buyers that you picked the worst securities. That is no different from #4."


  13. Nuff Said says:

    Picture was awesome. Article was terrible.

  14. PMCO_sucks says:

    Where are the clients Mortgage-Backed Securities Filled With Loans They Knew Were Going To Fail So That They Could Sell It To Clients Who Weren't Aware That They Sabotaged It By Intentionally Picking The Misleadingly Rated Loans Most Likely To Be Defaulted Upon?

  15. Chuck says:

    Matt, instead of complaining about your dwindling net worth why don't you: a) sell your GS stock?
    b) if you cannot sell for some legal reason: buy puts or sell short in another account
    you're welcome

  16. Forchrissakes! says:

    Goldman Sachs = the tallest ethical midget. Matt, I was giving you the benefit of the doubt until this article. Shilling for GS is no way to go through life son.

    • Guest says:

      Okay, Milk

      • Forchrissakes! says:

        Me again. 27 years at "bulge bracket" firms. First 4 years back office. No time at UBS. Definitely not an Occupant but disgusted with Matt's genuflecting to GS. Aaaacckkk…that's the sound of me puking as I think about GS being held up as an ethical beacon. Thumbs down all you want but this post sucked on many levels.

  17. Guesty says:

    4 isn’t different from #4 huh Matt?

    -Guy who actually reads Matts posts.

  18. Cut Me says:

    Lights on, sans scatter plot graph, anti-bank sign erect, pie chart filled.

  19. Crook of Low Cunning says:

    I should have finished high school. I should have gone to Harvard and then to HBS to get a MBA. I should have gone to work for an investment bank! God damn it!!

  20. Occupy Main Street says:

    You should really go down and explain all this to the OWS crowd. They'd lap it up.

  21. agreatdaytothink says:

    3 serious comments, caveated that I am usually a bank apologists.

    1) The 6th bullet point should be that sophisticated investors are upset that it was not disclosed that CSAC (or any other "indepdent manager") was only named manager per agreement that > 50% of the collateral came from the banks books, or in this case CDS hedging the banks holdings.

  22. agreatdaytothink says:

    2) The bottom class in these deals used to be held by the independent managers, with the larger yields compensating them for the risk, but also rewarding them for the expertise in managing the pools. When the buyer is Citi (who most likely took the lion's share out of the 14 buyers) is willing to take on that piece as tan additional cost of hedging, it wouldn't hurt to disclose that as well. Telling senior buyers in the capital stack who is signed up for the bottom is common, when it is conducive to do so.

    3) Expecting experienced buyers to be able to do credit work on the day of closing (when the reference pool lists were delivered) when you are talking CDO squared is a bit Herculean, though I am sympathetic to your argument of "if you don't like it, don't buy it" on this point, but just wanted to make clear, that no person can do the credit work on it, and if the reference pool consists of 144As and you don't own the underlyings, 3rd party modeling is pretty opaque.

  23. Mexi_Cant says:

    I fucking read it. Fuck yea. It took me more time to read than to make a pitchbook of the company that sells lemons only to another company, which then makes those delicious san pellegrino limonata cans, but I fucking did it.

  24. teaching moment says:

    Hey – anyone really enjoying Matt's theme's of "Hey, look at me, I worked at Goldman" as much as I? Perhaps he can write an article about football and insert at "I worked at Goldman" reference into it. I suggest something along the lines of:
    "blah, blah, blah, football, hey – the QB for the Buffalo Bills went to Harvard! You know, when I was at Goldman, we recruited a bunch of guys and gals from Harvard, and they were really smart (they worked along side ME at Goldman, so not that surprising)….
    Matt – please go back to defending insider trading as a victimless crime.

  25. thumbs sideways says:

    At the risk of getting a lot of thumbs down, can somebody point out the difference between this and selling a lemon car? Sure, the idea of the game is that everyone should be a sophisticated investor, and hence when conducting a due diligence, they should be understanding of the risks. The argument is that everyone is on equal ground. The used car salesman (we assume) has some inside information about the car that the buyer does not. Perhaps with the advent of internet, kelly's bluebook, carfax, etc., there is now an equal footing between seller and buyer, and any crappy car that the buyer gets is a result of their own failure of being sufficiently discriminating in their evaluation. My position is that the bank will almost always have the upper hand when it comes to information. Even if the securities are sound, I assume the amount of trading they do, and given their counterparties, also lends them leverage in the information they have on the market. The idea that the transaction was conducted with equal access to information and on an equitable basis eludes me.

    cool story, yeah bro?

    • Guess says:

      you're not the crazy one

    • Non-Lemon Car Seller says:

      Carry that to its logical conclusion.

    • Rico Suave says:

      To Matt's point, everyone thinks they are ripping off the other side. The people long these CDOs absolutely LOVED the fact that there were "idiots" like Paulson around to take the short side, as real estate could never possibly collapse. Also factor in the ridiculous compression in yields at that point, driven in large part by these frenzied longs. No matter which side you were on, you knew that the only way to get more yield was to include riskier (or, the blame-parlance of hindsight "shittier") securities and loans. Normal levels of DD aside, it's a pretty safe bet that any buyer who could by a bond from one deal rated identically to a bond from another and get 25bps more spread knew that it was because the underlying collateral was riskier.

      So perhaps the answer to your question is that, at the time, the investors actually wanted "lemons" for a variety of reasons that ultimately proved to be incorrect, the biggest being they didn't believe that they were actually lemons, although they understood what was in them.

      • rz2000 says:

        Not exactly so. Information problems are only one part of economic transactions. By definition, transactions only occur when both parties believe that they are in their interest.. Most of the time that involves the orchard owner not valuing a barrel of apples as much as the money he can use to by additional farming implements. Similarly a distributor may be able to get those apples to market for a lot of apple growers more cheaply than they could individually. While screwing each other through uneven information is no doubt part of the transactions, so is both producer and consumer surplus in any sustainable system. The misinformation is more likely to do with the allocation of the surplus produced by the transaction than to do with the transaction being harmful to either party.

        To be honest, while I think this was an interesting post, it is seriously limited by the unstated major premise that all market participants have identical risk tolerance, or prefer identical payment schedules. If that were true, then the entire finance industry would be a dead weight on the economy, with no more productive value than a casino.

        While the nonsensical Main St vs Wall St trope is based on the idea that finance is not productive, no one seriously argues that rescheduling the consumption of employment compensation through a retirement account is actually harmful, or that paying for future productivity in the form of new factory equipment shouldn't buy the purchaser to some portion of that future output. Well, maybe they do, but that is absurd.

        Screwing each other is a fundamental part of the arbitrage behind efficient allocation of resources, but it is not the foundation. The fundamental function is matching up buyers and sellers of debt and equity who have different scheduling needs. Something along the lines of what Churchill said: the rest is just negotiation.

    • guest says:

      Huge difference, and it's one of transparency. The ability to sell a lemon is based on the premise that the customer can not investigate all of the mechanical ins and outs of a car; no dealer selling a lemon would allow you to take it to an independent mechanic. KBB, Carfax are useless if the car has a mechanical issue, since KBB basically offers a hedonic pricing scheme and Carfax will only report major damage (will not root out everything).

      On the flip side, agreed that being able to do the credit analysis of the underlying on the day the deal closes is a bit difficult. In theory, there is far more data contained and available in a prospectus (see Big Short, The) that a reasonable investor should be able to conduct analysis on than you will ever find on the mechanics of an individual car.

      • IntriguingNewsletter says:

        There is a difference but there is still a problem here with transparency. Matt says "somebody" has to be short. But that is a different proposition than Citi itself being the other side of the transaction. Whether you agree they can be or not is one question but knowing that they are and the extent to which they are, if nothing else fundamentally impacts the calculation as to the quality of the instrument and trustworthiness of the information.

        Lost in this is that while short term money making is all fine and good, long-term this hurts market makers as the only participants in these markets would have to be, for lack of a better word, suckers.

        So sure the answer is "don't buy it." But if everyone said "don't buy it" there would be no markets to make. That's the problem when market makers are also market participants and exert that advantage. You eventually lose your ability to make a market AND participate. In this case, I hope the market makers saved, because it's a long, cold winter when everything dries up at once.

    • Horn says:

      Used car buyers are not sophisticated investors. HFs, and German banks are, de facto, by legal definition according to the SEC.

    • Christopher Faille says:

      If I were walking down the street in a neighborhood of people I didn't know, and saw a car on someone's lawn with a big sign on it that said, "$100 AS IS," I should hope I would be wary of buying that car. If I did buy it, and it broke down about 3 seconds after a got the keys in my hand (and the seller got the money in his) … well, I should hope no one would cery unduly for me.

    • Mike says:

      What if the brakes go out on that lemon and the new owner plows into a family crossing the street? Who is to blame? Now what if after all the legal proceedings and settlements the car seller and new owner get to keep more than the settlement paid to that family and that family's taxes were used to help keep that car seller in business? And oh yeah, the seller and new owner don't have to admit any wrong doing. The family in this example are the investors and pensions (ie teachers etc) that got screwed because Citi sold a lemon to Ambac.

      • Christopher Faille says:

        I would be very surprised if you could cite me any precedent that the seller did anything wrong in the situation you describe, by selling as is to a sucker who then got into an accident. The responsibilities that come with car ownership end when the title is transferred. So, yes, blame the buyer. But you're certainly right to be unhappy about bailing out the seller. Goldman Sachs didn't need bailing out, though as I recall the govt forced the bailout on them anyway.

    • jeff hoffman says:

      The difference between this and the transaction with a lemon car is that the guy on the wrong end of the car deal is the buyer, whereas the guy on the wrong end of the financial transaction is a retired fireman who has absolutely no control over that clown mismanaging his pension fund.

  26. Matt's a GS Douche says:

    Matt, we regret you ever left Goldman Sachs. Please go back there.

  27. MD, USTPP says:

    I think Matt is right on.

    We would have loved to have had him on our legal team; you wouldn't believe the conniptions the plaintiffs' attorneys went through when we explained that the reason we sell things is because they are worth less to us than what we can get for selling them – and that the content of our products was clearly disclosed on page 143 of the prospectus as being materials selected by the content manager.

    – Marketing Director for Animal Cookies for Kids, a product of United Smelting Tailing Ponds Processing, Inc.

  28. CDO guy says:

    I think agreatdaytothink has good points. I remember looking at the first Class V deal back in early '05. Told my sales guy straight out that the only reason ML had come up with this atrocity was because they couldn't sell the BBs and BBBs off the ABS CDOs in their warehouse! Realising I got the joke, he said it was no skin off his nose, as the market was rushing in and I should beg him for allocation since I'd be sitting on gains within 2 months. So, we were both right. If I'd bought and then sold, I would have made some money. And if I'd bought and held, I would have lost it all.
    To be fair, no deal gets done without taking a significant amount of product from the originating bank. That's part of why the bank does the deal (cross-sell opportunities). Think it's more problematic in a deal like this when it's synthetic risk, and there's a back-room deal that the originating desk gets to pick a certain % of the assets.

  29. Just Sayin' says:

    Maybe Matt posts these controversial papers for our heated discussion? Maybe he isn't as much of a GS douche as we'd like to think?

  30. Mike says:

    Yeah so what. F the teachers. Citi survives and who gets hurt? Let's do the math:

    Ambac files bankruptcy and sets aside only $27.1mn to resolve lawsuit claiming it misled investors about risks linked to subprime securities. Admits no wrong doing. Ambac pays Citi $850mn to settle its CDO exposure. Today Citi agrees to pay $285mn to settle SEC probe. Admits no wrong doing. Ambac shareholders already wiped out.

    Some of the pension funds that get to share that $27.1mn settlement:

    Public School Teachers’ Pension & Retirement Fund of Chicago, Arkansas Teacher Retirement System, Public Employees’ Retirement System of Mississippi and Painting Industry Insurance and Annuity Funds.

  31. Vanilla Investing says:

    I'm still missing why creating synthetic CDOs to facilitate naked CDSs is a positive in the first place.

    • Guest says:

      because if your on the correct side you can make money, lots of it, ask Paulson.

      • Vanilla Investing says:

        No, I understand that part and the mechanics of it perfectly well. I'm wondering why "global economic meltdown" is justified by "Falcone needs capital to finance LightSquared debacle."

        A quick recap of who these things worked: Joe Cassano, he of room temperature IQ, took the other side of tons of these deals, and drove AIG into the ground in the process. Then Lloyd Blankfein's bottom girl Tim Geithner made sure GS was made whole and the American taxpayer was the only one to take a haircut.

        So I'm a bit confused as to why Brooksley Born was wrong and this toxic waste that poses huge systematic risks to the world economy needs to continue to exist, unregulated.

    • guestosaurus says:

      Synthetic is cheaper, you don't have to convince someone to buy/sell you the asset.

    • Toffe says:

      Even the fact that educated and highly intelligent people are debating this shit is the problem. While it was questionable how much value to the economy these trades created, everybody had to just go along (nobody really knew). Now its dead apparent to the dumbest IQ 100 schmuck in the street that they destroy GDP/jobs/happiness etc bankers should get a clue. Realise that its not just giving a bad name to bankers and it will blow over. It won't. You built a Hydrogen bomb and then detonated it. Congrats, but how can you be surprised that the rest of the world isn't impressed that bushes are now glowing in the dark.

      Game over – move on to the next thing. How about concurring Mars? How about cure to cancer? You are smart and driven: go and do something useful.

  32. Chumbowl says:

    The point is that while Goldman, Citi, whomever is acting as a broker – either for a third party or themselves – they aren't marketing themselves that way to the buyer. They never use the word broker …except when they get sued, then they are brokers with no duty to the end client. Why do you think they hire Havvvaaad economics majors? So they can say "see we have Haaavaad guys on this sht. My boys wicked smaaat and he is def. not going to just do what the MD tells him to do." That's why people get pissed – this trade would have still worked if they were clear about the players, but hiding behind marketing crap makes it look dishonest, while technically legal. As a side note, screw the idiots that bought this stuff from freakin brokers pretending to be fiduciaries.

  33. Guest says:

    Just tag the photo "fraud", Matt. You would have saved yourself 1,758 words.

  34. Huh? says:

    Wait, is DealBreaker's mission to make fun of arrogant, egomaniacal, pompous jerks or to hire them?

  35. G-money says:

    Ethical! What bullshit. GS had congress bail out AIG because AIG was on the hook for billions to GS in credit default swaps and GS was on the hook for billions for the blowup of Lehman and Bear Sterns. They had to get paid by AIG (with our tax $) so they could pay others and stay in business……..and of course pay themselves huge bonuses. And what about the rest of the country. We all got f&%ked, and now we are pissed and coming with pitchforks to occupy Wall Street.

  36. workedatgstoo says:

    While the arguments about someone taking the short side in a synthetic instrument only show lack of understanding and general confusion about fiduciary duty, having the sponsor being the counter party has some glaring principal agent issues and informational asymmetries.

    Having worked on a structured desk on the buy side, in practice you get a list of the 200+ issues with ratings, terms, MV etc. It's not exactly feasible to do fundamental credit analysis on each issuer, as bulk of the time is spend on the correlated default models, water fall structure etc – the pricing of the tranche you're after.

    This leaves quite a bit of room to for the sponsor to adversely select securities they see as mis-rated (especially if you have in house research team that covers all the issuers) and pass it off pretending to be a neutral party.

    Of all the supposed structured problems (barbelling, short side on synthetic nonsense etc), having the sponsor be the counter party is probably the one valid one.

    • Guest says:

      CDO structuring wouldn't be a problem if the CDO "managers", the only true fiduciaries, actually did their jobs and evaluated the collateral, no matter how long it took, instead of competing to see who could be the most compliant to the Street (and not in a regulatory way). But they make poor SEC targets now, no deep pockets, mostly out of business. The rest of Matt's post says it all, particularly when he looks at the reverse, bestest CDO ever scenario. Would the SEC still have brought the case if Paulson had lost? It's the same "fraudulent" transaction either way. __Guy who can't help being serious this morning, sorry….

      • guest says:

        But that doesn't excuse that there is a fundamental problem with these types of transaction even if it is legal (which it is despite the forced settlement).

        I'd sumamrize as :

        Legal: Yes
        Economically Efficient: No
        Ethical: Hmmmmmm, define "ethical" and people can disagree on what that means in this context
        Good for Citi: This is the one that's the most interesting. Should Citi do this transaction from a business standpoint? Is it worth the risk, including the risk that they live in a highly-regulated industry with the potential for those regulators to get their panties in a bunch over something that smells funny.

        It's worth a discussion. Whether you believe the practice is ethical or not or that the SEC should regulate is different from knowing that they might regulate it. The second is a legitimate and real concern and the fact that the SEC "has a sad" is relevant because it was a predictable potential "sad" that could materially affect your business model. So you have to decide if it's worth doing.

  37. CDO guy says:

    You know, one more point about the whole concept of "stuffing" these cdos with "c&@p" in the hopes they'd default. Having made a couple of these myself (we were sponsor/manager/selection agent btw and didn't short in any of the collateral) we put in what we thought was the "best" collateral. Guess what? Still went *poof*. Maybe not quite as fast as Class V III, admittedly, but still went poof. Our A/A2 ABS CDO^2 closed 1 month after Class V (Mar 07), and ours didn't hit an EOD until the grand old date of Dec 2008, virtually a whole year later! Now, I'm not saying there weren't folks who were trying to make a buck off of who they saw as rubes. And I'm not saying there weren't folks who thought the "smart" guys weren't chicken littles. I will say that there's a lot of blame to go around. We have met the enemy, and he is us.

  38. David Ray says:

    How hilarious that this guy thinks of "fraudulent CDO structuring fraud" as "that line of business." He literally and explicitly calls it that. I suggest readers look through the second half of Kurt Vonnegut's short last book, A MAN WITHOUT A COUNTRY, for an understanding of these people who have profoundly damaged America and accelerated its precipitous decline (not to mention inflicted material harm on millions of fellow Americans) and feel no remorse (feel pride, supposedly). These people are the equivalent of what one finds when one turns over a rock. A step below scum.

  39. Blotter says:

    So Matt, what exactly do you consider "unethical?" Seems like you defend everyone who get's hit by regulators.

  40. PeopleAreStupid says:

    A wonderfully unintentional call for high margin and capital requirements. The buyers were foolish, and there will always be foolish buyers, and if you let them amass ginormous, highly leveraged positions they will end up destabilizing a fragile, interconnected system that everyone else relies upon.

  41. Guest says:

    I'm just a retail schmuck who likes to read this site.

    I'm glad that most comments above acknowledge that this sort of activity was, at the least, ethically challenged. That's good news, there might be hope for Wall Street after all.

    But it's unfortunate we can't line up a few of these "dealmakers" against a wall and shoot them. Or maybe first have them dig their own graves and then shoot them. That sort of reward would, perhaps, get a few "dealmakers" to think a little more about the ethics of their next "deal".

  42. JRG says:

    Let me summarize your argument.

    "You are surprised when a bunch of sharks disguise a shark tank as a kiddie pool, invite kids to swim, and then eat them"

  43. KSH says:

    In 18th century France they had a device for people like you: the guillotine.

  44. Loonesta says:

    Lovers of easy, shady and exploitative fraud committed against the unsuspecting and ignorant – unite! (Then slit your throats and jump off a cliff, please!) This piece of a piece was about as heartwarming as listening to mob whoops and cheers at "let 'em die!" and as promising as a crowd booing a soldier. Keep up the good work, you one percenters! You're one hundred per cent sleaze.

  45. Mark says:

    What a fool. Is this the people Goldman? S..t I can run rings around you with my MSEE and Ivy league MBA.

    Honestly, if you want to use the sophisticated investor argument, then I say more disclosure on Citi's side was warranted.

  46. Culuriel says:

    Wow, Matt, so you're allowed to invest other people's money in crap – on their behalf – and then make money when they lose their shirts?!?! Don't you guys have ANY responsibility to the people who trusted you with their money. What am I saying?!?! It's not like you would admit you have any responsibility to your investment clients.

  47. Guest says:

    So, I have 20 apples, and I wiped them all in my own shit. Then I vacuum sealed them and sold them to you, my dearest client. Some time later, the price of apples declines, due to the shit smell when they are opened. I made a little money there, you see what I did? Well, according to Matt, the very fact that I would part with these apples should have been warning enough that something might not be right. Caveat fucking emptor. These arguments are not going to fly when the folks of Zucatti Mk. 2 get the guillotine going.

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