Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Interested Parties: You, Me and AIG Want Goldman Sachs Money

Recent fraud charges brought by the SEC against Goldman Sachs have brought into focus much of what went wrong in the financial meltdown of 2008.

A shorthand view of the cataclysmic months of September and October, 2008, involve the collapse of Lehman Bros., and extenuating circumstances stemming from unpaid bets against CDOs sold by many of the major US banking interests - Goldman, Bank of America (Countrywide), Citigroup, Wells Fargo (Wachovia). Those bets (call it betting against the line or insurance) were in the form of Credit Default Swaps mostly in the hands of AIG, which went bust to the tune of about $180 billion.

The government stepped in and paid off many of the counterparties, including Goldman Sachs, BofA, and many others, most of them getting 100 cents on the dollar.

With fraud being alleged, plaintiff's attorneys literally around the world are looking into suing Goldman on behalf of clients ranging from small towns to large pension funds to AIG itself. An AIG action would cause considerable consternation for Goldman and its CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, to say nothing of potential monetary damages.

Further down the food chain are millions of US homeowners who may have been swindled by unscrupulous mortgage brokers and the banks themselves. Everybody was writing mortgages, and anyone with a pulse was the qualifying criteria. While the big banks may square off for millions and billions of dollars, a deluge of class action and individual suits could overwhelm already burdened court systems across the country.

Homeowners were taken for various rides with interest only loans, balloon loans, Alt-A's and other variable-rate vehicles, the primary fraudulent factors being almost always the same: inflated incomes on top of inflated appraisals. The volume of loans meeting the fraud standards could run as high as 70% of all loans written between 2003 and 2007, when the sub-prime market reached its climax and then began to quickly deflate.

Naturally, these court cases could run on for years, but the potential litigation fees for adept attorneys could be astronomical. Suing anything and anybody related to the the mortgage or securities industry appears to be a growth sector for the economy, with high hopes to recoup either money or real estate as the eventual goal.

With all that as background, Wall Street will likely remain in a relatively cautious mode, especially once earnings season passes in two weeks. Without a catalyst to move stocks higher, the potential for financial disaster rears its ugly head again and could spook many traders who already aren't overwhelmed with love for the workings of Wall Street.

Stocks pushed ahead again on Tuesday, though there wasn't much lift to the effort, especially concerning Dow stocks. Once again, Goldman Sachs' trading desks were likely underpinning the whole market, keeping the coast clear for Blankfein, et. al.. Volume was decidedly lower than the previous two sessions, an indication that some degree of normalcy has returned, though what normal is in these turbulent times is anybody's guess.

Dow 11,117.06, +25.01 (0.23%)
NASDAQ 2,500.31, +20.20 (0.81%)
S&P 500 1,207.17, +9.65 (0.81%)
NYSE Composite 7,669.11, +72.55 (0.96%)

Gainers beat back losers by a healthy margin, 5102-1418. There were 539 new highs to just 29 new lows.

NYSE Volume 5,797,391,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,006,695,375

Commodities rebounded smartly, with oil gaining $2.00, to $83.45. Gold was up $3.40, to $1,138.60, and silver added 9 cents to $17.82.

The SEC-Goldman Sachs saga is still in the prelude. It's almost a certainty that fireworks will develop out of this singular action, leading to more lawsuits using the SEC's action as a basis for argument. Already, an Italian bank is suing Citigroup, alleging misrepresentation on a complex swap arrangement.

Stay tuned. There's more to come.

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