How Much Did Goldman Screw The City Of Oakland Anyway?

Oakland has been fighting with Goldman Sachs over an interest rate swap for a while and I’ve always thought it’s a little embarrassing to talk about. Obviously Oakland’s theory – “we entered into a bet, and we lost, so we want to pretend it never happened” – is pretty silly, but it’s like, yeah, Oakland has it rough, and Goldman has it less rough, so just give them some money, no?

Oakland is trying to get out of a Goldman-brokered interest rate swap that is costing the cash-starved city some $4 million a year. The swap, entered into 15 years ago as part of a bond sale to hedge against rising interest rates, has turned sour for Oakland now that interest rates are near zero. … Oakland is paying 5.68 percent on debt associated with the swap, even with interest rates at record lows. Getting out of the contract would cost the city $16 million in termination fees, it says; it wants Goldman to waive the termination fees. …

But at Tuesday’s protest, civic leaders said the bank had benefited from a government rescue package during the 2008 financial crisis, and now it should give a break to cities like Oakland.

This is not a way to run a railroad, of course: Why Oakland? Why Goldman? Maybe AIG could give Oakland some of its bailout money? It got more than Goldman did, after all.

To really buy into Oakland’s case you have to think that this swap deal was somehow unfair when it was entered into.* But it doesn’t sound like Oakland is saying that: they entered into a synthetic fixed-rate deal with Goldman in 1998, and now they’re sad that they didn’t enter into a floating-rate deal. Since rates are down since 1998, that is a sensible thing to be sad about, but it’s hardly Goldman’s fault. Oakland’s synthetic fixed-rate deal with Goldman has a rate of 5.6775% for a 23-year bond thingy; from Bloomberg it looks like the same Oakland agency issued a 15-year fixed-rate bond in December 1997 at 5.65%, and you don’t see Oakland complaining to those bondholders just because rates subsequently went down.

Still, Oakland’s city council seem to be the last people who could figure out if this swap is unfair, so maybe someone should do it for them. (HINT: lawyers?) One place to start would be Oakland’s disclosure of the swap:

On January 9, 1997, the City entered into a forward-starting synthetic fixed rate swap agreement (the “Swap”) with Goldman Sachs Mitsui Marine Derivatives Products, U.S., L.P. (the “Counterparty”) in connection with the $187,500,000 Oakland Joint Powers Financing Authority (the “Authority”) Lease Revenue Bonds, 1998 Series A1/A2 (the “1998 Lease Revenue Bonds”). Under the swap agreement, which effectively changed the City’s variable interest rate on the bonds to a synthetic fixed rate, the City would pay the Counterparty a fixed rate of 5.6775% through the end of the swap agreement in 2021 and receive a variable rate based on the Bond Market Association index. The City received an upfront payment from the Counterparty of $15 million for entering into the Swap.

The Bond Market Association index, incidentally, is the SIFMA index, so Oakland avoided Libor manipulation. For a little while:

On March 21, 2003, the City amended the swap agreement to change the index on which the Swap is based from the Bond Market Association index to a rate equal to 65% of the 1-month London Interbank Offer Rate (“LIBOR”). This amendment resulted in an additional upfront payment from the Counterparty to the City of $5.975 million.

Of course it did. For no reason at all I figured I’d reconstruct this swap. You can find my work here. I am not a swapper of swaps so this is just for fun but by my math there’s no smoking gun, though there’s maybe a dagger smudged with a little bit of blood. Go play around if you’d like but some conclusions:

  • Oakland has paid about $42mm to Goldman under the swap so far in excess of what it’s gotten back from Goldman, and will pay another $17mm over the next ten years,** for a total loss under the swap of $59mm.
  • That sucks.
  • But it’s because rates went down.
  • It’s not, incidentally, because of Libor nastiness: my guesstimate is that Oakland would have lost almost $64mm if it had used SIFMA instead of Libor.
  • But is part of Oakland’s loss due to Goldman screwing them on pricing? Unclear. For giggles, I ran some numbers pretending that, instead of all those random up-front payments, Goldman and Oakland had just entered into a plain-vanilla Libor swap, on January 9, 1997 (when they did the real swap), at 65% of the publicly observable mid-market swap rate.*** That would mean a fixed rate for Oakland of about 4.55%, but it wouldn’t have gotten its free $15mm in 1997 or its free $5.975mm in 2003. But it would have lost a total of $55mm on the swap, or almost $4mm less than it actually did.
  • You can call that $4mm GS’s profit, though I’m actually eliding a bunch of real costs (it was a forward-starting swap, I don’t know how the first payments worked and so may be off there, there’s credit risk to Oakland, etc.) that make that look less outlandish than it was. (And probably some benefits that make it look more outlandish?) $4mm on a $187.5mm bond, or over 2% of notional, would be very pleasant for Goldman; sadly 2% is probably well within the margin of error of my stupid spreadsheet so there’s no real reason to think that that’s the right number. In fact, if you take the present value of these numbers as of 1997, discounting at a 20-year swap rate (and, I mean, maybe don’t), Goldman seems to have done worse on its complicated structure than it would have on a vanilla mid-market swap, by almost $2mm. Perhaps Oakland drove a hard bargain.

Anyway. I’m not sure what the moral here is. Probably: don’t enter into fixed-rate debt if rates will go down. Another possibility is: if you have the choice between doing something very plain-vanilla and at observable market rates, or doing something more customized that pays you $15mm up front, the one that pays you $15mm up front is always a worse idea. But, of course, if you’re the City of Oakland, you wanted that $15mm in 1997. And you want it now! But, Goldman being Goldman, you only get it once.

Oakland leaders urge broad battle with Goldman Sachs [Reuters]
City of Oakland Comprehensive Annual Financial Report [massive PDF, I wouldn’t click if I were you]
Here be spreadsheets [Google Docs & my own two hands]

* Or, I suppose, have a fanciful view of swap markets in which it doesn’t cost Goldman anything to tear up this swap, so they’re just being dicks asking for a $16mm unwind payment. This view is wrong. You can be sure Goldman hedged this swap with other parties who would charge it a similar amount to unwind.

** So a $16mm to unwind fee is a plausible fair value for that remaining $17mm.

*** Important: is that very wrong? Should a swap for 65% of Libor actually cost 65% as much as a swap for 100% of Libor?

**** Floating unattached footnote: no involvement with anything that happened here.

(hidden for your protection)
Show all comments

157 Responses to “How Much Did Goldman Screw The City Of Oakland Anyway?”

  1. Guest says:

    Guys in my high school used to rape cash-strapped municipalities with complex financial instruments all the time, it was no big deal.

  2. O-Town Trader says:

    Get Hype, Go Dumb!

  3. Zzzz says:

    Finally, someone who is not retarded and quotes the termination payment as goldman's profit

  4. Guest says:

    I can't wait until this "Google spreadsheets" tag on DB catches on

  5. Shlomo says:

    Jews hate Oaktown. It's a known fact. The Tribe can't stand it.

  6. Guy who knows things says:

    A buddy told me that his bank's municipal finance unit now has a policy banning the sale of rate swaps to municipal govt's since they seem to continually blow themselves up with these things (eg Orange County). What's the point of booking a few MM in PNL when they're just going to sue you to terminate/refund losses?

  7. Bernie & Koz says:

    Matt, quick question. That tag at the top of the spread sheet, that isn't copyrighted or anything is it? Because we'd love to use it, seems like it could protect us from a lot of future liability, thanks!

    -Guys working on time machines

  8. hello world says:

    1. I'm going to make an assumption that Oakland does not post collateral to GS (many muni got away with entering into uncollateralized derivative arrangements)

    2. I'm also going to assume/agree with Matt that GS hedged the swap so its PV01 is roughly flat and that GS probably booked a couple bucks of pnl on day 1

    3. with the upcoming rules regarding CVA capital, its going to suck very much for GS to keep this trade on with Oakland

    Oakland: you chose interest rate certainty – hind sight is 20/20 – rates went down – that kind of sucks for you – but don't make it easy on the banks to get out of their sh*ty positions – at the very least, they should be paying you some percentage of the capital they will save if you terminate the swap

    Shameless plug – I wrote about this exact situation a while ago on my blog:

  9. A. McClendon says:

    Oakland should have used knock-out options.

  10. Curious says:


    Maybe I'm being stupid, but doesn't your model rely on the idea that it would be cheaper to have sold a fixed rate bond in 1997 (at 4.55%), than to have entered into a variable rate one and then swapped it into fixed rate (at 5.68%)? In which case, what benefit was there to doing this – other than a) some cash upfront (but not => PV of savings of lower fixed rate, assuming rates stayed constant???); b) maybe make some money if interest rates rose?

    But surely if they had gone with the fixed, vanilla rate, they could refi if rates lowered, and do nothing if rates rose? So isn't this just a LT interest rate trade, with a bond issue on the side? If that's the case, then why not issue the bond at 4.55%, and then just enter into an interest rate trade – presumably could have got a tight spread on the ask than 113bp?

    Please advise.

  11. Berns & Wassendorf says:

    Love that line at the top of the spreadsheet, wish we had thought to deploy that post legitimate years though.

  12. Guest says:

    Your main computation needs to look up what the fair SIFMA (well BMA at the time) / LIBOR basis swap was trading at in 1997 (if it was even trading, no idea) instead of using the 65% value. Other than that it is roughly ok (ignoring timing / discounting / accruing factor choices). Why didn't you just use BMA rates for the first few years and LIBOR after?

    The "fair" check doesn't make much sense. Why would Oakland enter into an off market swap? What is it even checking? Also that 65% number is based on (to the extent it is based on anything) basis swaps from 2003 (and not even fair ones as it involved an upfront payment).

  13. Guest says:

    Oakland does a consistently awesome job of screwing itself. Last year Mayor Jean Quan put out a press release saying "we" support the goals of OWS and that Oakland PD would "work with" protesters. Shortly thereafter Occupiers broke down doors at city hall and shit all over the place.

  14. Bandersnatch says:

    Excellent post Matt.

  15. ------------------ says:

    Haters gonna hate

  16. Goldman response says:

    Mr. Levine, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

    Principal Blankfein

  17. Barter Kings says:

    Look, all they have to do is go down to the local 420 groups like Cannabis College, tax the sativa out of them and payoff GS in sweet fat sticky. GS will figure out how to lay that off in no time. Problem solved and everyone's in a better mood.

  18. Fatandhappy says:

    Meredith, you saw this cumming right?

  19. Fglk says:

    Whoever posted the original article here needs to go back and do their homework. There's so many factual errors it's embrarassing and makes it hard to comment on. Nice college try though.
    And if any of you had actually paid attention to the point of what Oakland is saying – it's that the swap became toxic and unfair in 2008 with the unprecedented federal intervention in markets and lowering of key rates. Libor followed the Fed rate to virtually zero. Then the feds bailed out Goldman of their toxic shit, but left Oakland holding its contract. Where's the justice in that? Oakland just wants the same good deal that Goldman's bankers got. That's the argument. Before you goons comment on it though you may want to do your homework about the deal's specifics and history though….

  20. Guestest says:

    Either Oakland was silly enough not to get competing quotes for the swap, or the swap rate they received was "market", meaning it's a sign their borrowing is risky and that they need to be more financially prudent. Now if we can find out who the City Treasurer was at that time and claw back his cannabis plants….

  21. o.o says:

    i’m surprised oakland has the mental capacity to handle the term “interest rate swap”

  22. MC Hammer says:

    I'd like to propose that we turn this mutha out.

  23. The 1% says:

    Its fun screwing over the 99%

  24. LifeIsGood says:

    GS Suit #1: Looks like we outsmarted state school kids in Oakland.
    GS Suit #2: That's child's play. Remember when we outsmarted HBS kids at Lehman?

  25. JRussell says:

    I have $31.5 mill guarenteed we could use as collateral.

    -JaMarcus Russell

  26. 25th Hour Trader says:

    The look on his face says "one does not simply exit a swap w/ GS…".

    -Robert Citron (old timers will remember this as the guy who blew up "The Real OC" back in '94 w/ a massive leveraged bet on repos/FRNs).

  27. capitalistic says:

    Lol. Guys, there's nothing fishy about this. It's similar to someone being upset because they locked into a 9% rate in 2007. Rates are now at 3.6%. Ish happens

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