10 Things You Don't Know About the GS Case - Views on News from Equitymaster

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10 Things You Don't Know About the GS Case

Apr 26, 2010

The general idea in the US seems to be that the case against Goldman Sachs is weak. But not according to Mr. Barry Ritholtz who believes that there are certain points related to this case that many are not aware of. We have received the approval of Mr. Barry Ritholtz to carry this article. I have been watching with a mixture of awe and dismay some of the really bad analysis, sloppy reporting, and just unsupported commentary about the GS case.

I put together this list based on what I know as a lawyer, a market observer, a quant and someone with contacts within the SEC. (Note: This represents my opinions, and no one else's).

  • This is a Weak Case: Actually, no - it's a very strong case. Based upon what is in the SEC complaint, parts of the case are a slam dunk. The claim Paulson & Co. were long $200 million dollars when they were actually short is a material misrepresentation - that's Rule 10b-5, and it's no brainer. The rest is gravy.

  • Robert Khuzami is a bad ass, no-nonsense, thorough, award winning Prosecutor: This guy is the real deal - he busted terrorist rings, broke up the mob, took down security frauds. He is now the director of SEC enforcement. He is fearless, and was awarded the Attorney General's Exceptional Service Award (1996), for "extraordinary courage and voluntary risk of life in performing an act resulting in direct benefits to the Department of Justice or the nation."

    When you prosecute mass murderers who use guns and bombs and threaten your life, and you kick their asses anyway, you ain't afraid of a group of billionaire bankers and their spreadsheets. He is the shit. My advice to anyone on Wall Street in his crosshairs: If you are indicted in a case by Khuzami, do yourself a big favor: Settle.

  • Goldman lost $90 million dollars, hence, they are innocent: This is a civil, not a criminal case. Hence, any mens rea - guilty mind - does not matter. Did they or did they not violate the letter of the law? That is all that matters, regardless of what they were thinking - or their P&L.

  • ACA is a victim in this case: Not exactly, they were an active participant in ratings gaming. Look at the back and forth between Paulson's selection and ACAs management. 55 items in the synthetic CDO were added and removed. Why?

    What ACA was doing was gaming the ratings agencies for their investment grade, Triple AAA ratings approval. Their expertise (if you can call it that) was knowing exactly how much junk they could include in the CDO to raise yield, yet still get investment grade from Moody's or S&P. They are hardly an innocent party in this.

  • This was only one incident: The Market sure as hell doesn't think so - it whacked 15% off of Goldman's Market cap. The aggressive SEC posture, the huge reaction from Goldie, and the short term market verdict all suggest there is more coming.

    If it were only this one case, and there was nothing else worrisome behind it, GS would have written a check and quietly settled this. Their reaction (some say over-reaction) belies that theory. I suspect this is a tip of the iceberg, with lots more problematic synthetics behind it.

    And not just at GS. I suspect the kids over at Deutsche bank, Merrill and Morgan are working furiously to review their various CDOs deals.

  • The Timing of this case is suspect. More coincidental, really. The Wells notice (notification from the SEC they intend to recommend enforcement) was over 8 months ago. The White House is not involved in the timing of the suit itself; it is a lower level staff decision.

  • This is a Complex Case: Again, no. Parts of it are a little more sophisticated than others, but this is a simple case of fraud/misrepresentation. The most difficult part of this case is likely to turn on what is a "material omission." Paulson's role in selecting mortgages may or may not be material - that is an issue of fact for a jury to determine. But complex? Not even close.

  • The case looks thin: What we see in the complaint is the bare minimum the prosecutor has to reveal to make their case. What you don't see are all the emails, depositions, interrogations, phone taps, etc. that the prosecutors know about and GS does not. During the litigation discovery process, this material slowly gets turned over (some is held back if there are other pending investigations into GS).

    Going back to who the prosecutor in this case is: His legal reputation shows he is a very thorough, very precise, meticulous litigator. If he decided to recommend bringing a case against the biggest baddest investment house on Wall Street, I assure you he has a major arsenal of additional evidence you don't know about. Yet.

    Typically, at a certain point the lawyers will tell their client that the evidence is overwhelming and advise settling. That is around 6-12 months after the suit has begun.

  • This case is Political: I keep hearing that phrase, due to the SEC party vote. It is incorrect. What that means is the case is not political, it means it has been politicized as a defense tactic. There is a huge difference between the two.

  • I'm not a lawyer, but... Then you should not be ignorantly commenting on securities litigation. Why don't you pour yourself a tall glass of "Keep Your Mouth Shut" and go sit quietly in the corner.

Bonus: CNBC's Steve Liesman has taken over the role Charlie Gasparino used to occupy - he appears to be the official designated spokesperson/leakee for Goldman. I find this sort of access Journalism contemptible, but that's just me. It also says some negative things about Charlie's career move - Fox Biz may not garner enough ratings to waste a leak there.

I have $1,000 against any and all comers that GS does not win - they settle or lose in court. Any takers? My money is already in escrow - waiting for yours to join it. Winnings go to the charity of the winner's choice.

Editor's Note: Barry Ritholtz is author of Bailout Nation (Wiley), publisher and editor of The Big Picture, and CEO and director of equity research at FusionIQ, which is a quantitative research firm that provides web-based software services to individual investors and traders. This article was published by Barry Ritholtz for The Daily Reckoning.

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