Friday, April 16, 2010

Analysis of SEC's Case Against Goldman Sachs

Those who want to read the actual complaint made by the SEC should go here. After reading the complaint, the SEC's case can be split into two parts.


Goldman mislead ACA, the third party picked to head selection of securities, that Paulson, a person also involved in the selection of securities to be included, would have skin in the game of the final CDO.

On January 10, 2007, Tourre sent an email to ACA with the subject line, “Transaction Summary.” The text of Tourre’s email began, “we wanted to summarize ACA’s proposed role as ‘Portfolio Selection Agent’ for the transaction that would be sponsored by Paulson (the ‘Transaction Sponsor’).” The email continued in relevant part, “[s]tarting portfolio would be ideally what the Transaction Sponsor shared, but there is flexibility aroundthe names.”


On January 10, 2007, Tourre emailed ACA a “Transaction Summary” that included a description of Paulson as the “Transaction Sponsor” and referenced a “Contemplated Capital Structure” with a “[0]% - [9]%: pre-committed first loss” as part of the Paulson deal structure. The description of this [0]% - [9]% tranche at the bottom of the capital structure was consistent with the description of an equity tranche and ACA reasonably believed it to be a reference to the equity tranche. In fact, GS&Co never intended to market to anyone a “[0]% - [9]%” first loss equity tranche in this transaction

Considering that what Goldman described was a CONTEMPLATED capital structure, I think this alleged deception will be very hard for the SEC to prove. It's up to ACA to do due diligence as they were hired to do just that, act as a neutral third party analyst for the selection of securities to be included in the CDO.

Later on, ACA's parent company would write insurance on the CDO. The SEC claims that ACA wouldn't have done so if they knew that Paulson had gone short (bet against the CDO since he helped pick the underlying securities. However I think that's a very weak argument as ACA also helped pick and had ultimate say in that they could have refused to put their name on a CDO they didn't like.

ACA’s parent company, ACA Capital Holdings, Inc. (“ACA Capital”), provided financial guaranty insurance on a variety of structured finance products including RMBS CDOs, through its wholly-owned subsidiary, ACA Financial Guaranty Corporation. On or about May 31, 2007, ACA Capital sold protection or “wrapped” the $909 million super senior tranche of ABACUS 2007-AC1, meaning that it assumed the credit risk associated with that portion of the capital structure via a CDS in exchange for premium payments of approximately 50 basis points per year.
ACA Capital was unaware of Paulson’s short position in the transaction. It is unlikely that ACA Capital would have written protection on the super senior tranche if it had known that Paulson, which played an influential role in selecting the reference portfolio, had taken a significant short position instead of a long equity stake in ABACUS 2007-AC1.
The super senior transaction with ACA Capital was intermediated by ABN AMRO Bank N.V. (“ABN”), which was one of the largest banks in Europe during the relevant period. This meant that, through a series of CDS between ABN and Goldman and between ABN and ACA that netted ABN premium payments of approximately 17 basis points per year, ABN assumed the credit risk associated with the super senior portion of ABACUS 2007AC1’s capital structure in the event ACA Capital was unable to pay.

Part 2

Goldman did not disclose to investors that the selection process involved Paulson who had a short position against some of the underlying securities or similar securities.

On or about April 26, 2007, GS&Co finalized a 178-page offering memorandum for ABACUS 2007-AC1. The cover page of the offering memorandum included a description of ACA as “Portfolio Selection Agent.” The Transaction Overview, Summary and Portfolio Selection Agent sections of the memorandum all represented that the reference portfolio of RMBS had been selected by ACA. This document contained no mention of Paulson, its economic interests in the transaction, or its role in selecting the reference portfolio.

I think this is the only place where the SEC might have a case. But did Goldman have to disclose Paulson's role? After all, Paulson is just another client of the firm and so does it have to keep track of what each and every client is doing? What if Paulson had entered into short positions with another firm instead of Goldman, clearly then Goldman would not have known (but he didn't). It was known that the underlying securities would be based on subprime mortgages rated Baa2, does Goldman have to reveal that Paulson, who played a part in the selection of the particular mortgages, had a negative view of the mortgage market and bet against those securities?

In the end, a stupid German commercial bank, IKB, decided to purchase $150 million of the CDO in two tranches. They lost just about all of the $150 million while Paulson, who had purchased credit default swaps on the underlying securities, profited. The CDS was purchased through Goldman, which means that Goldman "lost" money as they had to pay out on the CDS. That will add complications to the SEC case, but the SEC claims that the money IKB lost went to Paulson which isn't directly true. IKB lost money through purchasing a CDO offered by Goldman. Paulson made a bet on securities that the CDO was based upon or similar securities and collected his insurance money from Goldman. Goldman "won" with IKB and "lost" with Paulson, it doesn't follow that IKB's money went to Paulson. We'll have to see what happens, but this is by no means an open and shut case.

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