Thursday, June 10, 2010

Goldman and BP in PR Battle With Administration

What do oil spills and CDOs have in common? In addition to the fact that they were both disasters, one environmental the other financial, much. First of all, they were both very expensive, one causing incalculable damage to wildlife and industry, the other to homeowners, taxpayers and banks balance sheets. The cleanups of both are ongoing, with the final impact still years away from being tallied. Naturally, the administration has had to get involved, as the damage to the general public grows by the minute. Curiously, both Goldman Sachs and BP are in a PR battle for their lives with a wounded administration that needs to appear as if it is capable of assigning blame and proposing satisfying punishments to calm the furor of the angry voting public.

Witness today's front page FT article on the SEC's probe into yet another Goldman-backed CDO deal called Hudson. The $2 billion Hudson Mezz CDO was not included in the charges filed by the SEC back in April. This is a new investigation replete with similar accusations that GS structured and sold deals to its customers while simultaneously shorting the same securities because it thought they were junk. There is even an email where a GS employee said of a potential investor that it was "too smart to buy this kind of junk." It makes one wonder how many more of these deals is the SEC going to try to nail Goldman on? How much will this ultimately cost the storied and now embattled investment bank? The FT helpfully points out that $1.1 trillion in CDOs were issued between 2005-2007. Certainly not all of that issuance was by GS alone, but still, this could get very expensive. Particularly if all of Goldman's customers start to sue. Goldman's pockets are deep but even it cannot survive criminal charges. Anybody old enough to remember Drexel? For you younger folk, how about Arthur Anderson? Is the administration willing to go that far, or is it just trying to win a PR battle? As much as everyone hates Goldman right now, I suspect the latter. If we chose not to let the bank die in 2008, why do so now?

BP is another story. It is not an American company so who cares? Drive these fish killing bastards into the dirt, or at least until the stock gets cheap enough so that a US company can scoop it up, point the finger at the last bunch of jokers who ran the firm and reach an affordable settlement with the government, fishing industry, idled oil industry employees, and residents of the gulf who are wading through the sludge washing up in their backyard. Or a Chinese company. Whatever. In any event, pushing BP to the brink seems likely, as there seems to be little political upside to protecting a foreign company in an already vilified industry.

If I had to wager, I'd bet on GS surviving and BP not making it, with loads of volatility in between. The two even have a history together. Forget about BP's current CEO, who in a brilliant video posted on LOLFed, is compared to a cat. Let's talk about BP's former CEO, the disgraced John Browne, who resigned in 2007 due to scandal related to his lying on the stand about how he met his former lover, Jeff Chevalier. Mr. Browne was also forced to resign from Goldman's board, where he was serving as chairman of the audit committee. Not sure what Mr. Browne was doing while chairman of the audit committee during the boom, but he certainly wasn't auditing the bank's CDOs.

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