Goldman Disputes Assertions About E-Mails

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Goldman Sachs is disputing the assertion by a Senate subcommittee that it profited by going "short" on housing - by betting that mortgage-backed securities would fall.

A spokesman for the firm also accused the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of cherry-picking four e-mail threads out of 20 million pages provided by Goldman, and reaching conclusions before it even holds a hearing.

In response to a selective e-mail release and statement from the subcommittee chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., Goldman Sachs spokesman Lucas Van Praag said the firm actually lost more than a billion dollars in residential mortgage-backed securities during the period in question.

"Today we have made available our residential mortgage profit & loss information for each quarter of 2007 and 2008. This demonstrates conclusively that we did not make a significant amount of money in the mortgage market," van Praag said. "What it does show is that we had net losses of over $1.2 billion in residential mortgage-related products in the period."

In addition, Goldman has released a 12-page summary document it had prepared in advance of Tuesday's hearing, during which CEO Lloyd Blankfein is scheduled to testify.

In that statement, Goldman asserts it never created mortgage-related products that were designed to fail, nor did it engage in "some type of massive bet against our clients."

Goldman Sachs: Risk Management and the Residential Mortgage Market

The e-mails released Saturday morning show top executives at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. boasting about the money the firm was making as the national housing market collapsed in 2007.

The e-mails suggest Goldman benefited from its bets that securities backed by subprime mortgages would lose value. The messages seem to contradict previous statements by the investment bank that it lost money on the securities.

"Of course we didn't dodge the mortgage mess," Blankfein wrote in an e-mail dated Nov. 18, 2007, according to an e-mail released Saturday. "We lost money, then made more than we lost because of shorts."

Goldman restated its position Saturday that it did not reap huge profit from bets against the market.

Short positions are bets that the market will go down. As the housing bubble burst, Goldman and a few powerful hedge funds took short positions on the market. Many of those bets required other investors to bet the market would rise. When the market went bust, people with short positions cleaned up.

"We were just smaller in the toxic products," Goldman's president, Gary Cohn, writes back to Blankfein that same Sunday evening.

Critics say their bets added fuel to the financial crisis.

More on Goldman Sachs:
Goldman's CEO, Board Named in Lawsuits
SEC Inspector General Will Investigate Timing of Goldman Case
Spitzer: SEC Will Likely Win Case Against Goldman Sachs
Analysts Bullish on Goldman, Despite Charges
SEC vs. Goldman: A Matter of "Material"

One of those bets is at the heart of civil fraud charges the Securities and Exchange Commission filed against Goldman this month. The SEC says Goldman let hedge fund Paulson & Co. help select investments for a portfolio that was designed to lose value, then marketed the deal to investors who were betting the portfolio's value would rise.

The SEC says Goldman did not tell the investors - mostly European banks - that the deal was created in part by the hedge fund and therefore was designed to fail.

Separately Saturday, Goldman released a series of e-mails from Fabrice Tourre, the trader at the heart of the SEC charges. In them, Tourre jokes about selling investments to "widows and orphans" when he already expects the market to go bust.

He writes in an e-mail dated March 7, 2007, that Dan Sparks, leader of Goldman's U.S. subprime business, said the business "is totally dead, and the poor little subprime borrowers will not last so long!!!"

That April, he joked about the bonds the SEC charges he misled clients about.

"I've managed to sell a few abacus bonds to widows and orphans that I ran into at the airport, apparently these Belgians adore" the complex investments, Tourre wrote.

The e-mails are in a mixture of French and English, and are to a woman with whom Tourre appeared to be romantically involved. Goldman provided translations.

The same e-mails were excerpted in the SEC's complaint against Goldman, but the full context was not reported previously.

The subcommittee, whose probe is not connected with the SEC's, has been investigating the causes of the financial crisis for 18 months. Its fourth and final hearing Tuesday will include testimony from Blankfein and Fabrice Tourre, a trader named in the SEC case.

Goldman has denied wrongdoing and says it will fight the charges.

In a statement Saturday, spokesman Lucas Van Praag said the bank lost $1.2 billion in the residential mortgage market during 2007 and 2008.

Blankfein's comment about Goldman making more than it lost was a response to an e-mail from Van Praag in which Van Praag discussed a forthcoming New York Times article about the firm. It would show "how we dodged the mortgage mess," Van Praag explained.

In one, Goldman Chief Financial Officer David Viniar says that in one day the firm made more than $50 million on bets that the housing market would collapse, according to a statement from Levin's office.

Viniar, also scheduled to testify Tuesday, summed up the position of investors who had not bet against the market:

"Tells you what might be happening to people who don't have the big short," Viniar writes in the message dated July 25, 2007.

In a statement today, Levin called banks like Goldman "self-interested promoters of risky and complicated financial schemes that helped trigger the crisis."

Goldman said in its 2009 annual report that its short positions sought to offset its long positions in the mortgage market and did not generate large profits. Through 2006, Goldman "generally was long in exposure" in the mortgage-backed securities market, according to the report, and after taking losses on those securities in 2006 it reduced its exposure.

"Although Goldman Sachs held various positions in residential mortgage-related products in 2007, our short positions were not 'a bet against our clients,'" according to the report.
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